It’s election year, and the craziness already has begun

Judging from the emails piling up in my inbox, the two worst people in Colorado are U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who will oppose each other in the Senate race this November as Udall seeks a second term.

Did you know that “Shutdown Cory” single-handedly engineered the Tea Party shutdown of the federal government last year? And did you know that Rep. Gardner hates immigrants, women, innocent schoolchildren and every hardworking American struggling to get by?

And did you know that Sen. Udall was the deciding vote for something called Obamacare, a trillion-dollar boondoggle aimed at depriving all Americans of health care while imposing ruinous new taxes on every hardworking American struggling to get by?

Polls say the two are tied. We can look forward to $20 million in hyper-partisan attacks before the voters decide which scoundrel to bless on Election Day.

Our election process is absurd and histrionic, full of slander, libel and misinformation … and ’twas ever thus. It’s easy to caricature campaigning politicians as incompetent buffoons, but they’re players in a game that isn’t a game … and there are no rules.

Take the forthcoming 5th Congressional District primary battle between incumbent Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn and his unexpected challenger, retired Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn. The winner will face the Democratic nominee, retired Maj. Gen. Irv Halter.

It’s easy to caricature campaigning politicians as incompetent buffoons, but they’re players in a game that isn’t a game … and there are no rules.

Lamborn may not be worried, since he’s already beaten Rayburn twice. The first victory came in the 2006 free-for-all primary that featured six prominent GOPsters desperately seeking … not Susan, but a safe seat in Congress. Former U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley aide Jeff Crank, Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson, County Commissioner Duncan Bremer, Lamborn and Rayburn squared off in a vastly amusing battle royale (with no runoff allowed).

Lamborn’s opponents misunderestimated him, to use George W. Bush’s memorable malapropism. They saw him as a political lightweight, a mediocre party hack who lacked the gravitas to be a member of Congress.

At the District Assembly, Crank received top-line designation with 46 percent of the vote, followed by Lamborn with 40 percent. The other four hopefuls petitioned on the ballot.

Lamborn supporters went all medieval on Crank. The Christian Coalition mailed out a counterfactual brochure linking Crank to “public support for members and efforts of the homosexual agenda.” The widely respected Hefley (who was retiring after 20 years and had endorsed Crank) called Lamborn’s campaign “one of the sleaziest, most dishonest campaigns I’ve seen in a long time.”

Two years later, Crank and Rayburn tried again. Before the primary, they made a bizarre deal: If one candidate’s polling numbers were four points higher than the other’s, the loser would drop out.

Crank led that poll by 14 points, but Rayburn cried foul, arguing that the poll’s methodology was flawed. In the end, both stayed in the race and Lamborn prevailed.

Politicians, like Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado,” are slow to forgive insult or injury. Crank endorsed Lamborn prior to this April’s District Assembly, skillfully placing the knife where it would do the most harm.

“I’ll simply say that I don’t believe Bentley Rayburn possesses the character to serve in elected office,” Crank wrote. “There is no doubt that the record will bear out such a statement under scrutiny.”

Looks as if it’ll be one general down, one to go. In a nonpartisan race it’d be Halter in a landslide, but Halter’s a Democrat in a district that includes all of El Paso County.

Meanwhile, in the hotly competitive state Senate District 11, Republican incumbent Bernie Herpin faces Democrat Michael Merrifield. 

Herpin and Merrifield have similarly mixed records. Bernie was appointed to City Council when Richard Skorman resigned, lost the subsequent election, won a district seat in 2009, lost it in 2013 and bounced back a few months later to win John Morse’s Senate seat in a recall election. Michael served four terms in the state House of Representatives, and then lost races for county commissioner and City Council. 

Like Lamborn, Merrifield can turn out his base, but he may have problems with right-leaning unaffiliated voters in the district. Consider his fiery 2007 email regarding charter school advocates: “There must be a special place in Hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers and Voucherizers! They deserve it!”

Herpin, the co-founder of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition, may not appeal to gun control advocates. Yet the grandfatherly Herpin lacks the partisan edge of Lamborn or Merrifield, inspiring neither fierce loyalty nor fierce opposition.

In an election season that promises to be exceptionally nasty, it may be that the voters will turn away from the nattering nabobs of negativity to the prattling pollyannas of positivism.

Irv, Bernie — maybe there’s hope!