A low-key primary election day in Colorado took on an even more muted tone Tuesday: Destructive wildfires are dominating the public's attention, and candidates were loath to campaign amid the smoke and flames.
Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, the only sitting member of Congress from Colorado facing a primary challenge, spent the days before the election meeting with firefighters and seeking federal resources to battle a quick-moving fire that forced thousands to evacuate the Manitou Springs area.
Lamborn's opponent, Colorado Springs businessman Robert Blaha, canceled get-out-the-vote phone calls for all of El Paso County, which makes up some 70 percent of the voters in the 5th Congressional District.
"Now is a time to respect other priorities for sure," Blaha spokeswoman Tamra Farah said.
Fire subdued campaigning in the 2nd Congressional District, too, where the High Park fire has killed one, destroyed 248 homes and scorched more than 130 square miles.
One of two Republicans seeking the nomination there, state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, was talking about that fire with contributors Sunday at a private home in Estes Park. Soon afterward, homes just across town went up in flames.
"It's just a great tragedy that we're seeing up here," Lundberg said. Both he and his Republican opponent, Eric Weissmann of Boulder, said there was little campaigning out of respect for the wildfire's victims.
"We haven't tried to complicate that at all with campaigning," Lundberg said. "I just give them a hug and a word of encouragement and tell them it's not the time to be worrying about who's going to win in a primary."
Turnout for the mostly mail-in primaries was expected to be low, both because of the fires and because there aren't many contests in many areas. The only statewide primary was a down-ticket Republican race for the University of Colorado board of regents.
Democrats had no primaries above the state legislative level.
As of Monday, more than 407,000 voters had returned their ballots. That total included more than 235,000 Republican and more than 170,000 Democratic voters.
Andrew Cole, spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state, said that voters who didn't mail ballots because they have been evacuated for wildfires should call their county clerks to find out how to cast replacement ballots.
Weissmann said many near the fires in his district aren't paying attention to politics, and rightly so.
"When someone is affected by the fire, they want to find out about the fire and not be bothered by a politician," he said.
How To Vote
In some counties the primary election is being held by mail ballot only, in other places it's being held at vote centers.
Check your county: http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/vote/files/2012PrimaryMethods.png
To find your polling place, contact your county clerk's office.
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