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Five Colorado primary races to watch tonight

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DENVER — Colorado’s first-ever June primary election hasn’t gotten much attention, not with wildfires erupting across the state and record heat.

In El Paso County, home to three of our five most interesting primary battles, the spreading Waldo Canyon fire has election officials scrambling to adjust on the fly so that evacuated homeowners can drop off their ballots in neighboring Teller County before tonight’s 7 p.m. deadline.

Here are FOX 31 Denver’s five primary races to watch Tuesday night:

1. C.D. 5 – Lamborn v. Blaha

Congressman Doug Lamborn, the Colorado Springs Republican, who represents arguably the safest GOP seat in the state, is facing a strong challenge from businessman Robert Blaha, who has tapped into the anti-incumbency sentiment being felt across the country — and a stronger-than-expected anti-Lamborn backlash.

Lamborn, who’s seeking a fourth term in Congress, is campaigning down the stretch as if he knows his job might be in jeopardy, making the rounds at press briefings related to the fire.

Blaha, who’s self-financed much of his campaign, has attacked Lamborn as an embarrassment to the district, noting that the Congressman has drawn headlines only for his controversial decision to skip this year’s State of the Union Address and for his ongoing push to de-fund National Public Radio.

The Denver Post Editorial Page Editor, Curtis Hubbard, recently slammed Lamborn for a career of gaffes and “misses”: likening President Obama to a “tar baby”, among others.

And his own predecessor, former Congressman Joel Hefley, recently dismissed Lamborn as a “knucklehead.”

So will this assault from all angles be enough to help the well-financed Blaha defeat a three-term Congressman and basically assure himself of being elected come November in the ultra-conservative Fifth District?

It’s unclear what will happen tonight, but should Lamborn go down it’ll be the biggest story of the night.

2. C.D. 2 – Weissmann v. Lundberg

The other Congressional primary is in Colorado’s Second District, but this battle between two Republicans isn’t likely to mean much come November — Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, despite changes to the district boundaries, is a heavy favorite to defeat whichever conservatives GOP voters choose on Tuesday night.

The choices are state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who appeals to the social conservative, Tea Party wing of the party, and businessman Eric Weissmann, a political newcomer who is campaigning as more of a moderate.

3. House District 19 – Stephens v. Looper

Statehouse primaries are generally pretty low-key affairs, but this one’s packed full of drama — a nasty fight between two conservative women, both state representatives, who were drawn into the same district and refuse to step aside.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, is the second most powerful Republican in the House; and the former Focus on the Family employee’s conservative credentials are undisputed.

Or, at least they were undisputed until last year when Stephens sponsored a bill to set up a health care exchange in Colorado, one of the mandates handed down by the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Conservative activists were outraged that a conservative would embrace any aspect of “Obamacare” and dubbed the exchanges legislation “Amycare”.

Enter Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, who’d been considered a moderate Republican — she supported civil unions legislation a year ago, before opposing it this year — but has made a tactical move to the right in order to challenge Stephens in the newly re-drawn district that itself leans hard to the right.

There are those who believe the House Majority’s hard-line stance on civil unions at the end of the legislative session may have been driven by the need to protect Stephens; and Looper’s campaign manager even trumpeted her voting against despite having a gay son.

At the end of the day, there will be a conservative Republican woman representing House District 19 next year. But the bitter feelings that will no doubt follow this nasty intra-party fight, however it turns out, aren’t likely to go away by next January, when the legislature reconvenes.

4. S.D. 8 – White v. Baumgardner

In another compelling GOP primary, the defeated civil unions bill is again the defining — and dividing — issue separating state Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, and Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden.

Baumgardner is challenging White for her Senate seat and positioning himself as the truer conservative of the two — and the race has been a nasty one.

White voted in favor of civil unions this May.  Baumgardner, appointed — not coincidentally — to replace an ailing committee member at the last minute, voted against the bill; and his supporters have sent direct mail pieces to voters with a photo of two men kissing highlighting what they defined as “Jean White’s Family Values”.

Meanwhile, Baumgardner has been under attack for allowing a sex offender to live at his home with his wife and 7-year-old son. Michael Frierson, 32, is a ranch hand who was hired a year and a half ago. He was arrested in April for failing to register in Grand County; Baumgardner’s wife, Lori, bailed him out.

Breckenridge Democrat Emily Tracy awaits the winner come November and has an uphill climb either way; that said, Baumgardner defeating White Tuesday might give her more of an opening to appeal to more moderate voters.

5. S.D. 10 – Liston v. Hill

El Paso County Republicans have yet another choice Tuesday night about who they want to represent them in the state Senate — a long-time state lawmaker or a young up-and-comer with no experience in office.

State Rep. Larry Liston decided to run for the state senate after four terms in the House and is campaigning on his experience, noting his position as Chairman of the House Economic and Business Development Committee.

Hill is a well-funded nonprofit executive who nearly defeated Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, two years ago and appears to have a strong chance of winning Tuesday night.

TUNE IN to FOX31 Denver News at Nine for full coverage of primary night results.