Broken agreement heats CD 5 debate
By Leslie Jorgensen
COLORADO SPRINGS — The 5th Congressional District debate between Republican candidates Bentley Rayburn and Jeff Crank switched from courteous to contentious exchanges when asked about the futility of two candidates challenging incumbent Congressman Doug Lamborn. The trio nearly assures Lamborn’s win.
In the first half of the debate, the demeanors of Crank and Rayburn were as conservative as their charcoal gray suits, white shirts and red, patterned ties. More telling was their choice of footwear. Rayburn wore shiny, black loafers with tassels; Crank wore tooled leather cowboy boots.
About 150 people attended the debate sponsored by the Lincoln Club of Colorado. At times Centennial Hall seemed too small a venue for the boisterous crowd that alternated from whistling and hooting to hissing and booing.
The Lincoln Club had provided the debate questions to each of the candidates prior to the debate. Although Rayburn entered into the fray by calmly reading answers from prepared notes, it wasn’t long before spontaneous combustion erupted.
The explosion occured when moderator John Zakhem asked why Crank and Rayburn would waste money and energy on a 3-way primary battle that nearly ensured Lamborn’s victory. (A single candidate has the best shot of unseating the incumbent.)
“We knew from the beginning that was a possibility. That’s why we decided to run a 3-way race with a winning strategy,” said Rayburn, referring to his campaign manager Mike Hesse.
Crank bristled at that assertion and challenged Rayburn’s memory.
In June and September of 2007, Crank said he and Rayburn held two cordial meetings to discuss the primary race. They shared a single goal to unseat Lamborn. Rayburn and Crank concurred that their best shot was with a single candidate. The only remaining question was which one of them would drop out.
That determination could be made by the highest fundraising total, the most delegate votes at the 5th Congressional GOP Assembly, or the winner of a poll. (Rayburn abandoned the caucus-to-assembly route to petition onto the primary ballot.)
“I won all three benchmarks,” Crank declared.
“Bentley and I made a commitment that neither of us would be the one to re-elect Doug Lamborn,” Crank said.
The decisive factor was to have been the outcome of a poll conducted in late May that Crank and Rayburn structured with pollsters from each of their campaigns.
“We ordered a red Chevy with a 4-speed. We got a green Chevy with an automatic transmission,” retorted Rayburn with a stern-as-steel expression. He said the Colorado Springs Home Builders Association determined that the poll was flawed and voided the agreement.
The audience exploded with applause, boos and hisses.
“I will certainly keep my word to any agreement,” said Rayburn, adding a caveat. “You have to be very, very careful of the pledges you make because you’ll be stuck sticking to
Crank whipped out the agreement and said, “There are only two signatures on this agreement.”
Television cameras zeroed in on the paper that was clearly signed by Rayburn and Crank. The HBA had helped the men develop the standards for the contest, but was not a party to it.
“I was dumbfounded that the Jeff Crank campaign had no objections to this poll,” said Rayburn, maintaining that the poll was flawed.
Crank shot back that he had first signed the agreement in the morning on May 27; however, Rayburn delayed signing until May 28. Consequently, polling was not conducted on May 27 and 28, two of the dates specified in the contract. More than 400 people were surveyed, Crank said, but a larger voter sampling would improve the accuracy of a poll.
Rayburn said he resented having his “integrity” questioned.
Switching gears, the candidates were asked to name their heroes.
“There is only one answer to that and that is Jesus Christ,” Rayburn said. “I suppose my other hero is my father.” Choking back tears, Rayburn said his father served as a chaplain in the Korean Conflict behind enemy lines.
“Jesus Christ is my hero as well,” said Crank, who also cited Rayburn’s father for his heroic military service. “My first and foremost hero is my son Joel who was 8 years old when he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes … My political hero is Ronald Reagan.”
During the “speed round,” the candidates agreed that they’d like to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service; Crank would consider a flat tax or fair tax; Rayburn prefers fair tax.
Crank opposes term limits; Rayburn supports term limits for Congress members if it would apply nationally.
Rayburn and Crank support a Marriage Amendment, eliminating the Department of Education, and oil drilling in Alaska’s Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
At the close of the debate, both candidates received standing ovations.