Dems strategize to take out Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District |

Dems strategize to take out Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District

Party’s best hope in GOP stronghold may be redistricting

Since upsetting moderate Democrat John Salazar in 2010, Rep. Scott Tipton has beaten four Democratic challengers to hold onto his seat in Congress.
Randy Wyrick | |

With another Democrat eyeing a potential 2020 rematch in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, the debate has already started in political punditry circles about what kind of candidate can realistically challenge five-term incumbent Republican Scott Tipton — or whether the only real hope is redistricting in 2022.

Glenwood Springs attorney Karl Hanlon recently told the Vail Daily he’s considering another primary challenge of former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, who last week formally announced she’s seeking a rematch with Tipton in CD3. Mitsch Bush beat Hanlon 64.1% to 27.7% in the 2018 Democratic primary — only to lose to Tipton 51.5% to 43.6% in the general election.

Tipton claimed his seat in 2010 when he upset moderate Democrat John Salazar by 4.6% in the largely rural, conservative district that stretches from Grand Junction to Pueblo and includes most of the state’s Western Slope. Since then, the closest any Democrat has come to unseating Tipton was Mitsch Bush losing by 7.9% percent in 2018.

Two Hispanic male state lawmakers from Pueblo — Sal Pace and Abel Tapia — lost to Tipton by margins of 12.3% and 22.3% respectively in 2012 and 2014, and then former state Sen. Gail Schwartz of Crested Butte lost to Tipton by a 14.3% margin in 2016. The majority of CD3 voters are independent (37%), with Republicans (33%) outnumbering Democrats (28%).

The district includes all or part of 29 of the 64 Colorado counties. The one part is the western two-thirds of Eagle County. Residents of CD3 overwhelmingly (88%) identify as white, with another 24% identifying as Hispanic — meaning some percentage of people identify as both.

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‘It’s all about the issues’

No white male candidate has challenged Tipton since he upset Salazar in 2010 after first losing to him by 25.1% in 2006. Asked if he thinks ethnicity or gender matter in the district, Hanlon said no.

“Winning this district is not about the race or gender of the candidate,” said Hanlon, a Carbondale resident who practices water and land-use law in Glenwood Springs. “Democrats have run two women and two men against Tipton and the results have been the same every time.”

It’s all about the issues, Hanlon says, and running someone who’s not a Washington insider or career politician.

“Democrats need a candidate who understands the issues this district faces from the ground up, not the top down,” Hanlon said. “If we continue to run the same career politicians and party insiders, Scott Tipton will continue to win. We have some of the most expensive health care in the country and the effects of Trump’s trade war combined with the rapidly growing reality of climate change are killing this district. The people of this district cannot afford another loss.”

Familiar faces

Mitsch Bush, a former Routt County commissioner who went on to represent Eagle and Routt counties in the State Legislature, hit on some of the same issues in her press release.

“Scott Tipton has voted against the interests of regular people in southern Colorado and the Western Slope time and time again,” Mitsch Bush said. “He’s voted to cut Medicare and Social Security, against protections for our public lands, against insurance coverage for pre-existing health conditions, and against women’s rights, civil rights, and voting rights, to name a few.”

Mitsch Bush first announced her intentions to the Vail Daily on May 19. Former Green Party U.S. Senate candidate and Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi, who got 8.2% of the vote in the 2018 Democratic primary for CD3, did not return an email on whether he’ll run again.

Michael Fortney of Clear Creek Strategies, a longtime campaign spokesman and political strategist for the Cortez congressman, emailed this response when asked about Mitsch Bush and now possibly Hanlon seeking the Democratic nod to challenge Tipton:

“I look forward to watching both of them [Mitsch Bush and Hanlon] trip over each other on their race to the left. However, [with] Mitsch Bush’s past support of socialism, I’ll give her the edge — for now,” Fortney wrote, alluding to a previous subscription by Mitsch Bush to the left-leaning magazine In These Times.

Mitsch Bush told Colorado Politics she’s a Democrat, not a socialist, and that she expects much higher Democratic turnout in 2020 because it’s a presidential election year and Colorado has a critical U.S. Senate seat up for grabs as well.

But some political observers view CD3 as a fairly safe seat for Republicans, much like CD2 — held by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and including the eastern third of Eagle County — is a fairly safe seat for Democrats because it also encompasses Boulder and Fort Collins.

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