The prelims are over, and now it’s time for the main event.
Jeff who? Bentley who? Doug who? Gone. Swept away by the stolid Republican primary voters of Colorado Springs and the 5th Congressional District.
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, the only Doug left standing, reaffirmed his hard-earned status as the junkyard dog of local politics by launching a pre-emptive attack on his Democratic opponent Hal Bidlack, accusing him of dodging debates.
It was a sweet moment for political observers, who had watched Lamborn refuse to debate his primary opponents for six months. For some, politics is like cage fighting — no rules, no referees, no holds barred and playing fair means you lose.
No Democrat has represented the 5th Congressional District since the seat was created half a century ago.
Conventional wisdom says that no Democrat ever will, at least during our lifetimes. Democrats were visibly dispirited when Jay Fawcett barely got 40 percent of the vote during 2004, when the stars seemed perfectly aligned for a monumental upset.
Two years later, nothing much has changed.
Once again, Lamborn is facing a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel whose name is unfamiliar to most voters. Once again, the GOPsters are battle-scarred by a long, divisive primary battle which Lamborn won with a plurality. Once again, it looks as if Doug will cruise home and not have to worry about packing up his office.
The last Democrat elected to a countywide office was Barney Iuppa, chosen as district attorney after the incumbent checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation center during the campaign.
Iuppa was an admirably competent DA, but the voters nonetheless replaced him during the next election with Republican John Suthers.
Deeply closeted stealth Democrats, or RINOS (Republicans in name only), have sometimes held non-partisan, citywide offices, but, like gay Republicans, they’ll never come clean about their secret preferences — at least, not while still in office.
Can Bidlack win?
To beat Lamborn, he’ll have to fight. He can’t hold press conferences, as he did last week, and spend all his time indignantly responding to Doug’s clever, inelegant and unfair attacks.
In war, you seize the high ground. In politics, you seize the low ground. Make your own nasty, unfair and inaccurate attacks — and let your opponent do the angry sputtering.
For example, suppose Lamborn said that “Russia’s attack on Georgia was a vicious, premeditated act of war, perpetrated upon a country that is a friend of the United States, a European democracy. I call upon Georgia and Russia to end hostilities, and for Russia to withdraw its forces immediately!”
Just eliminate a few irrelevant words, and here’s what Lamborn really said “Russia … is a friend of the United States, a liberal democracy. I call upon Georgia … to end hostilities … and to withdraw its forces immediately!”
But Bidlack is determined to fight fair.
He’s a visibly upright kind of guy. He’s asked Lamborn to participate in a campaign like that of Lincoln and Douglas, where two honorable men who happened to disagree debated the issues before respectful, civic-minded crowds.
That’s fine, but in this district, most voters will choose the honorable conservative, not the honorable liberal. And if it comes down to a fight, Bidlack’s the friendly, well-behaved Labrador up against a lean, mean junkyard dog.
Meanwhile, my colleague Amy Gillentine has taken umbrage at my characterization of our upcoming convention coverage as “stumbling aimlessly around.” My apologies. I’ll be stumbling aimlessly. Amy will be striding purposefully.
Whether stumbling or striding, we’ll do our best to cut through the spin and the white noise and find stories that are interesting, entertaining and informative. That may not be easy, since political conventions are devoid of suspense.
They’re like the Olympics — if you knew in advance who was going to win every event. Conventions are not events, but meta-events — content-less shows and spectacles. Imagine a Super Bowl without a football game or the Kentucky Derby without horses. The interest is contrived, the action irrelevant.
When Sen. Barack Obama accepts the nomination before a vast throng at Mile High Stadium, mainstream media journalists will have to report the speech’s actual content — but many will focus upon its meta-content. Will he get a bounce in the polls? How did he tailor the content to appeal to swing voters? How will John McCain counter? How well did Hillary fake it?
But however manufactured and manipulated the conventions might be, they’re still powerful expressions of our nation.
Thousands of ordinary people will come together to nominate Obama and McCain, and will do so without being threatened or intimidated, without risking jail or assassination.
Reporters may write what they like and interview whomever they please — and convention delegates will be delighted to talk. There will be fat, jolly people in funny hats — and thin, serious people in even funnier hats.
It’ll all seem very normal.
And it will be a privilege to witness it and to report on it. It’s what 12 generations of Americans have fought and died for — our unruly democracy, complete with funny hats, junkyard dogs, retired colonels and the ever-renewed right to govern ourselves as we choose.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.