In Congressional District 5, Tuesday’s primary election was so close that it wasn’t until 10:45 p.m. that retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn finally congratulated incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn, who led by 3,762 votes, or slightly more than 5 percentage points, out of about 72,000 votes cast.
Speaking from his campaign gathering at a Colorado Springs charter school, Rayburn praised his team for their work, acknowledging “we jumped into this thing at the absolute last minute.”
Rayburn, who ran against Lamborn twice before, had criticized Lamborn for being out of touch with voters and a “career politician.” Lamborn said his years in Washington — which date back to 2006 — qualified him for re-election.
Lamborn was absent from his own re-election nail-bitter, having stayed in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night for the first meeting of a joint House-Senate Veterans Affairs conference committee meeting, according to a statement from his office. Speaking on his behalf, his staffers insisted they were confident of a win.
“Doug is very optimistic. It looks like we’re going to take the day,” Neil Scheurer, Lamborn’s district director, said early in the evening at a Lamborn gathering at El Paso County Republican Party headquarters in Colorado Springs.
The closeness of the race surprised veteran political analyst Bob Loevy, a retired Colorado College political science professor. “If there’s such a thing as a moral victory, Bentley Rayburn just scored it,” Loevy said. “He took on a race that experts, including me, said would be unwinnable and really gave Lamborn a scare.”
Throughout the night, returns showed a closer than expected race. Though by 10:30 p.m. it became clear that Lamborn would take the GOP nomination. “Rayburn would have to win virtually every vote that’s yet to be counted, if not literally every vote,” said Dan Cole, executive director of the El Paso County Republican Party.
Crowds dwindled, tables were cleared, and balloons were already popped by the time Rayburn delivered a speech conceding the race and congratulating Lamborn. He thanked his staff, then turned to an Old Testament verse “which says that the warrior prepares the horse for battle, but the victory’s the Lord’s,” Rayburn said.
“This outcome is what he ordained and certainly what we’re accepting as his good plan.”
Rayburn and his wife, Debbi, celebrated their 37th anniversary at their watch party, held at the Global Village Academy. Debbi Rayburn attended the academy as a young girl and Bentley Rayburn is president of the school’s board of directors.
Lamborn will face retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Irv Halter, a Democrat, in the general election Nov. 4.
Halter, who hosted a small watch party at his downtown Colorado Springs headquarters, noted the significance of Lamborn’s thin margin of victory.
“What we’re seeing tonight with the closeness of this race, shows that there’s a significant number of people here, including Republicans, who are very unhappy with their current congressman,” Halter said.
This story was produced in the KRCC Newsroom as part of Colorado College's Summer Journalism Institute, under the direction of Professor Diane Alters. It originally appeared in the Colorado Independent.