Four Republican candidates are vying to fill an open 4th Congressional District seat, each touting their conservative values to voters as the June 24 primary draws near.
The hopefuls are seeking the seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who is leaving the House of Representatives in a bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall this fall.
The predominately rural district encompasses Colorado's eastern plains. The district reaches northern cities, including Greeley and parts of Longmont, but it also includes some communities near Denver, including Parker, Castle Rock, Lone Tree and Elbert County.
Gardner has thrown his support behind Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck to succeed him in the CD4 race. Buck — who narrowly lost a 2010 Senate race against Sen. Michael Bennet — is the household name among the four candidates looking to take over Gardner's seat.
“People talk about name recognition, but I think what I have is a brand,” Buck said. “People understand I am a fiscal conservative and I have a passion to reduce spending.”
CD4 voters are hearing that same message from the other three candidates in the race: state Sen. Scott Renfroe; Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer; and Steve
Laffey, a New England transplant who was once the mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island.
Laffey lives just outside the district in Larimer County, where he raises cattle. The former head of a Tennessee-based brokerage firm, Laffey is a passionate fiscal conservative who hopes to help rein in federal spending, if elected.
Laffey has been endorsed by former presidential candidate Herman Cain, a tea party darling. “I've never been endorsed by anybody,” Laffey quipped when asked about the significance of Cain's endorsement. “Politicians hate me.”
Renfroe, of Greeley, has represented state Senate District 13 since 2006. A fiscal and social conservative, Renfroe believes that his opponents cannot match his conservative credentials.
“I support personhood and traditional marriage,” Renfroe said. “I'm a proven conservative with a proven conservative voting record. You can say you support things, but until you've been on a legislative body and voted on things, there's nothing to back it up.”
Kirkmeyer believes that her work as a Weld County commissioner has prepared her for a seat in Congress. Kirkmeyer, who has a dairy farming background and who once served under former Gov. Bill Owens, said the race is more than just about proving to voters who is the most conservative voice.
“Yes, we all have conservative values,” she said. “But, to me, it's about what have we actually done and accomplished and who is a proven leader and has an understating of how government works.”
Kirkmeyer is proud of the 13 years she has spent working in county government. She said that Weld County has no debt and consistently pays tax refunds back to its residents.
Like her opponents, Kirkmeyer believes Washington spending needs to be kept under control.
“Washington has been overreaching and overspending for years now and we need to get out of that cycle,” she said.
In a crowded field, the candidates are doing whatever they can to set themselves apart from their opponents. Recently, Renfroe launched television attack ads against Buck, accusing him of flip-flopping on certain issues.
“I think the voters deserve to have all the facts before making a decision,” Renfroe said, defending his ad campaign. Renfroe is also critical of Buck's decision to drop his Senate bid and instead opt for a CD4 run.
“Is that someone who knows what he wants or is he just looking for a job?” Renfroe said.
Buck is used to hearing criticism. During his unsuccessful Senate bid, Buck took heat for remarks he made about women. He also likened being gay to alcoholism.
To Buck, all of that is in the past.
“I don't think those statements will hurt me in what we're trying to accomplish in the 4th Congressional District,” he said.
Buck believes that voters will care more about his job performance as DA of Weld County. Buck touts a reduction in crime and the creation of a juvenile-assessment center that he believes has played a role in reducing youth crime and truancy.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Vic Meyers and Libertarian Jess Loban in November's general election. With the district being weighted in favor of Republicans, the candidates aren't too concerned about demographic shifts that have worked against GOP candidates at the statewide level in recent years.
“I don't do the Hispanic message or Chinese-American message,” Laffey said. “I just tell people about freedom. I'm color blind. I'm a successful businessman running for office because the nation is broke. All the rest is just talk.”