Rayburn’s vex, lies and audio tape

Broken campaign vow haunts Rayburn

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS – Like a poltergeist that refuses to be exorcised, Bentley Rayburn’s broken agreement to drop out of the race for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District has come back to haunt him.

The latest apparition appeared July 16 on YouTube, in the form of a video that captured Rayburn declaring, “I am not going to be the guy responsible for getting Doug Lamborn re-elected.”

Rayburn is understandably vexed by the excerpt. However, it’s only one among several longer recordings that are floating around the district.

One of them landed at The Colorado Statesman.

The audio on YouTube is packaged as a black-and-white video of type with selected quotes from Rayburn’s comments. It concludes with the tongue-in-cheek typed statement, “‘Thank you’ — Doug Lamborn on Bentley’s decision to stay in the race.”

Within a few hours, it was linked on The Denver Post, Colorado Pols and Colorado Politicker Web sites.

Video viewers heard Rayburn saying that the weakest challenger — either he or fellow Republican candidate Jeff Crank — would withdraw from the primary battle to unseat Congressman Lamborn.

“…at some point along the way — either before we start or as we figure it all out — we’ve got to come to some kind of understanding that this needs to be a two-man match. And, you know, I don’t know exactly how that will all transpire.

“One thing I’m not going to be, if I’m the weakest guy, I am not going be the guy responsible for getting Doug Lamborn re-elected,” Rayburn declares.

The recorded snippet seemed to support yearlong assurances by Rayburn and Crank to several GOP powerbrokers and businessmen that the less viable candidate would drop out of the race.

Political wisdom — and common sense — holds that if two Republican challengers split the anti-Lamborn vote, the incumbent’s victory in the Aug. 12 primary will be ensured.

Rayburn and Crank signed an agreement in late May promising that the weaker candidate in a poll of Republican voters would withdraw from the race. Crank emerged the winner, leading Rayburn by 17 percentage points.

But Rayburn backed out of the deal, saying the poll was flawed because it surveyed too many potential Republican voters and was conducted on the wrong days.

The recording triggered outrage from the Rayburn campaign.

“This is another dirty trick!” Mike Hesse remonstrated, accusing Crank’s campaign or supporters of secretly taping Rayburn. “It’s legal in Colorado, but it’s unethical!”

Crank’s campaign denied any involvement.

“We didn’t make that tape, and we didn’t post it,” asserted Amber Glus, Crank’s deputy campaign manager. Glus said she listened to the recording after a reporter called for a comment.

“It sounds consistent with what Bentley Rayburn has said in public,” said Glus.

Rayburn’s detractors questioned integrity back in 2006

Rayburn began defending his integrity in mid-June when the candidate declared he would not honor the agreement made with Crank.

The retired Major General asserted his integrity was beyond question because he took the military honor code as a young cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the early 1970s.

In 2006, Rayburn also had invoked the military honor code when he refused to sign the “integrity in campaigning” pledge introduced by Duncan Bremer during the 5th CD Republican primary. Lamborn also refused to sign the pledge.

Crank, Rayburn, Lamborn, Bremer, former El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson and Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera comprised the six Republican candidates vying for the seat.

Bremer had devised the pledge to call a truce to dirty campaigning. Crank and Rivera previously had been the targets of inflamed and dishonest attacks waged by 527 committees that supported Lamborn.

Lamborn won the contentious primary battle, edging out Crank by 893 votes, and Rayburn placed a distant third. The Republican-dominated district delivered Lamborn over Democratic candidate Jay Fawcett in the general election.

Although the issue of Rayburn’s integrity did not arise in the 2006 election, it seems obvious that by 2007, when the audiotape was made, someone questioned his integrity enough to document his statements.

A recording, sent anonymously to The Colorado Statesman, contains the excerpt published on YouTube. Though the recording is of poor quality with multiple voices and noises, it contains Rayburn’s published comments.

Rayburn’s recorded comments in context

Rayburn told The Denver Post that he thought his comments were recorded last summer, but pertained to the 2006 primary race.

His guess on the timing appears correct. In the summer of 2007 Rayburn had yet to announce his second run in CD 5. The recording mentions that his twin daughters would be entering their freshman year of college during the first week of August.

When Rayburn’s comments are heard in context, it is clear that they are related to the 2008 primary race against Lamborn and Crank.

The complete audio contains Rayburn’s criticisms of Lamborn for failing to show leadership on a number of issues, including the water rights conflict between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, obtaining a veterans’ cemetery in the district, and mounting obstacles to Fort Carson’s proposed expansion in Pinon Canyon. (Lamborn later secured approval for a veterans’ cemetery to be situated in El Paso County.)

“I think the real key is — I'm not sure that it’s true, but I’m 95 percent plus convinced that it’s true — that in a three-way race, Doug wins,” said Rayburn.

“And so whoever dives into this thing, at some point along the way — either before we start or as we figure it all out — we’ve got to come to some kind of understanding that this needs to be a two-man match. And, you know, I don’t know exactly how that will all transpire.

“One thing I’m not going to be, if I’m the weakest guy, I am not going be the guy responsible for getting Doug Lamborn re-elected.”

Rayburn listed “measurements” of assessing which candidate – he or Crank – should take on Lamborn in the primary.

“How well you are able to raise money and what kind of support you’ll have at the assembly. Each of these things along the way will be decision points where we have the opportunity to say it’s obvious. It just makes it obvious.”

However, Rayburn bypassed the assembly and petitioned onto the ballot, and although he had an initial surge, he has lagged behind Crank in fundraising.

“Watching the first little bit of Lamborn’s tenure, you know, every pop quiz he flunked. Back then, he hadn’t had too many of them. It’s clear that he’s not the right guy,” Rayburn is heard saying on the audio.

Rayburn also said he had considered running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Wayne Allard, but prominent GOP leaders dissuaded him because they were focused on running former Congressman Bob Schaffer.

Rayburn said he was ready to jump into the 5th CD contest, but expressed displeasure with the idea of a three-way primary.

“Be it during this summer break or in the fall, sooner or later, before push comes to shove, we’ll have to figure this out,” he said.

“Like I say, I’m not going to be the person who gets Doug re-elected,” declared Rayburn.

Rayburn held similar conversations with Republican activists, businessmen, supporters and Crank. It is not known who recorded and posted them.

Democratic candidate Hal Bidlack said he’d received a similar recording of Lamborn. Instead of using as a campaign hit, Bidlack said he delivered it to Lamborn without listening to it.

In 2006, Crank said he received documentation about the legal problems of one of Lamborn's sons. Instead of publicizing the problem, Crank said he gave the information to Lamborn.

Now, Rayburn seems to be haunted by the failed agreement he made with Crank, and promises made to key leaders in the Republican Party here and in Denver.

During the first CD 5 GOP primary debate a few weeks ago, Rayburn contended that he had built an aggressive campaign based on knowing all along that he would be in a three-way race. He ignored his previous comments about leaving the race should he be the weakest candidate.

One can only wonder when we’ll hear audio of Crank, recorded secretly by an opponent’s supporter.

If nothing else, the leaked tape replays the bitterness from the 2006 primary that fractured GOP unity in Colorado Springs.