by Rick Langenberg
Riding the wave of much support for Second Amendment gun ownership rights and a bullish time for the GOP party in Colorado and Teller County, Incumbent Republican Mike Ensminger easily defeated challenger Mark Manriquez in a heavily contested battle for Teller sheriff Tuesday night.
Ensminger beat the unaffiliated candidate by a 4,812 to 3,291 margin, based on the preliminary tallies. Voter turnout was strong for a mid-term election, according to officials, with more than 50 percent of active voters submitting their ballots either through the mail or at drop-off spots, by Monday morning.
The results of the sheriff’s race once again proved the challenges of mounting a challenge against a GOP incumbent in a heavy Republican area. With this verdict, Ensminger, who was elected in 2010, will serve his final four years in office. Ensminger has maintained that he wants to continue many public safety programs he implemented during his first term and to defend the constitutional rights of local citizens, especially when it comes to gun rights.
Not surprisingly, Teller voters strongly favored the GOP nominees in all key races, including those for Colorado Governor and U.S. Senate.
Shortly after the results came trickling in, Manriquez appeared to accept the reality of enduring another losing campaign during a gathering of his supporters at the Shining Mountain Golf Club. “Win or lose, I believe we had the right message and did the right campaign,” said Manriquez. “This was about unifying the county. We brought a lot of people together. I feel good about the campaign we ran. I don’t think we could have done any more.”
The culmination of the vote marked one of the most heated and expensive sheriff races in Teller County in two decades. Both candidates and their supporters displayed little affection for each other for what emerged as a rematch of the GOP primary battle in the summer of 2010. Ensminger handily won that earlier fight, but this time Manriquez abandoned the GOP banner.
In fact, Manriquez tried to defy the odds in a heavy GOP region by running as an unaffiliated candidate.
He ran a highly aggressive, grass-roots campaign that targeted unaffiliated, Democrat and Republican voters. The candidate received the endorsement of the Teller County Democratic Party, the Teller County Tea Party, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police and the Colorado Springs Police Protection Association.
In addition, Manriquez, an investigator with the Division of Gaming, came out swinging and publicly criticized the incumbent’s policies and track record in operating the jail in Divide, creating a negative agency atmosphere due to an explosion of lawsuits and a considerable level of officer turnover. He also questioned the sheriff’s reported pro-Second Amendment stand, his ability to solve key cases and the agency’s use of a SWAT team. In fact, in the final day of the race, Manriquez even received the endorsement of former Teller County Sheriff Kevin Dougherty.
The incumbent, though, maintained that public safety increased immensely during his administration and that his record spoke for itself.
In addition, Ensminger cited much improved communications with the county commissioners and other agencies and advocated his prestigious role with certain groups like the County Sheriffs of Colorado, which filed a lawsuit against two controversial gun control measures passed in the state. Ensminger was a big vocal opponent of gun control measures, approved by the state legislature. In addition, the incumbent sheriff cited big fiscal improvements in running the jail.
The two sheriff contenders clearly didn’t like each other much, a fact that highlighted a well-attended candidate’s forum, hosted by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce. Verbal sparks flew as both sheriff candidates, who actually worked for the same agency in California at one time, emphasized their qualifications for the job and argued that their opponent didn’t have what it took to man this office.
Ensminger also received the support of many community leaders and head law enforcement leaders in neighboring towns, such as Woodland Park and Cripple Creek and in the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The sheriff also received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association and had a much larger campaign chest than his opponent.
Manriquez maintained that he was trying to make a historic run as an unaffiliated contender, which he hoped would open the door for more competitive races and would do away with the closed-door party caucus system. He argued that the current system completely disenfranchises Independent, Democrat and many Republican voters, who don’t agree with local party leaders.
But similar to previous efforts of unaffiliated candidate in Teller County, he faced tough odds from the get-go in a heavy Republican area. No unaffiliated candidate has succeeded in snagging a Teller County elected seat in recent memory. Actually, Manriquez fared better than previous challenges of unaffiliated candidates in Teller County.
In other key races, Teller voters clearly favored Republican Cory Gardner for the contested U.S. Senate seat, in his quest to unseat Democrat Mark Udall.
Udall got clobbered in Teller County by a 66 to 28 percent margin. Also, Teller voters strongly sided with Bob Beauprez, a Republican, who was running against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper with a 66 to 29 percent margin walloping. Both of these races have received national attention. As of press time Tuesday evening, the governor’s race was determined to be too close to call. Gardner was determined as the winner in the U.S. Senate showdown, a victory that will help the Republicans to gain control of the Senate.
And as expected, Teller voters strongly supported Republican Doug Lamborn for his re-election for Colorado’s District 5 U.S. House of Representatives seat. He faced competition from a decorated military veteran, Irv Halter, who only garnered 36 percent of the votes throughout the county.