By Rick Langenberg:
It’s tough to unseat Incumbent office-holders in Teller County and throughout the district. And the path to victory isn’t necessary cemented with a big win at the Republican County Assembly, with losing candidates often prevailing at the primary stage. However, the route as a write-in contender is extremely difficult.
These were some of the messages conveyed during the June 24 primary showdown, with Assessor Betty Clark-Wine and Sheriff Mike Ensminger scoring impressive victories.
In the most heated assessor primary race in recent memory, Clark-Wine, elected in 2010, overcame a tough challenge by former appraiser Violett Watt, the predominated favorite among local GOP party leaders. Clark-Wine beat Watt beat by a 1,817 to 1,400 vote margin and will retain her seat for another four years. She doesn’t face any opposition in the general election.
Clark-Wine’s win marked one of the biggest comebacks ever recorded in a several month period, especially after she received a complete snub by party leaders. In the March GOP County Assembly, Clark-Wine was clobbered by a 79 to 21 delegate vote, and it appeared her campaign for re-election was dead. She fell way short of the minimum amount to even garner a spot on the ballot.
But the assessor, who previously served as a Woodland Park council member and has extensive real estate experience, conducted an aggressive petition drive, and within a two week period, received more than 900 autographs from registered voters. She stressed the importance of having this position determined by Republican voters throughout the county, instead of by 100 party leaders.
The battle for assessor got quite ugly, with a candidate’s forum turning into an all-out cat fight with the two contenders making it clear they don’t like each other. Clark-Wine advocated the changes she made over the last four years and how she treated property owners fairly. Watt, though, contended that Clark-Wine’s management style was horrible and cited the huge turnover in key employees and managers.
Both assessor candidates pursued highly aggressive campaigns.The sheriff’s race was also quite contentious, but Ensminger easily beat write-in candidate Danny “DJ” Riley by a convincing margin. Ensminger received 2,401 tallies, giving him an impressive victory. Write-in results for Riley weren’t available as of press time, but preliminary indications are that he may have garnered about 15 percent of the votes cast for this seat.
Riley faced an uphill climb after failing to garner enough signatures to qualify for a spot on the primary ballot. Write-in candidates don’t normally fare that well in Teller County political races. Riley launched a slight blitz in the last few weeks with a mailer to all voters, and did some print advertising. Riley, a former military veteran and polygraph expert, maintained that he would provide more open communications with residents and do more extensive training for department officers. He vowed to try to reduce the high agency turnover and curb the reported explosion in lawsuits against the sheriff’s office.
Ensminger, though, clearly ran on his track record for the last four years and cited the improvements made in the operations of the sheriff’s office and in fighting gun control laws. Most likely, Ensminger will face Mark Manriquez, an investigator for the Colorado Division of Gaming, in the November election. Manriquez, who lost to Ensminger four years ago in the Republican primary, is running as an unaffiliated candidate this time. He has until July 10 to garner about 145 signatures from registered voters in the county.
The sheriff’s race is expected to get quite lively in the next few months and will dominate the political election spotlight for Teller County. In other state and district-wide races, Teller Republican didn’t deviate from previous predictions. Teller Republicans heavily favored incumbent Congressman Doug Lamborn in his re-election bid with 55 percent of the votes. Lamborn, though, ended up winning a close contest against retired Air Force two-star general Bentley Rayburn. Throughout the Fifth Congressional District, including Teller, El Paso, Fremont, Park and other areas, Lamborn only carved out a four-percent victory, making this his toughest challenge since he assumed the seat. Lamborn, however, still remains quite popular in Teller County.
In other key races, Teller voters sided with Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler in the four-person duel for the GOP nomination for governor. That support isn’t surprising considering Gessler’s local popularity and his role in revamping the county’s clerk and recorder office. However, Republican votes for this seat were quite split. Gessler received 976 Republican votes in Teller County. But in the overall state race, Bob Beauprez, a rancher and former congressman, emerged as the clear favorite, beating Republican challengers Tom Tancredo, who once ran for president, Gessler and former state Senator Mike Kopp. Beauprez, who lost big in a gubernatorial race in 2006, will square off with incumbent John Hickenlooper in the November contest
No contested seats occurred in the Democratic Party primary races. Turnout in the Teller primaries was low with 4,221 votes cast, representing less than 25 percent of the eligible voters participating through a mail-in ballot format.