PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) – Colorado’s largest congressional district is the size of Arkansas and boasts the state’s most contested race as first-term Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and Democrat Sal Pace court voters with wildly divergent interests – farmers worried about water, businesses promoting energy development, and blue collar workers concerned about jobs.
The 3rd District is also a place where voters are bluntly skeptical of the candidates.
“How come there’s no cooperation?” Joe Treanor, 63, asked Tipton at a senior center in Pueblo, a heavily Democratic city with historic ties to labor when steel mills were its primary employers. Republicans, Treanor said, are trying to “mess with Obama.”
Tipton blamed the Democrat-controlled Senate for refusing to take up some GOP bills passed in the House, including a budget Republicans have passed the last two years. But he told Treanor, “I respect and understand exactly what you’re saying.”
Pace, who was the Democrats’ leader in the state House, is trying to capitalize on voter disenchantment with Washington.
Walking a busy street in Leadville, at 10,152 feet the highest incorporated city in the country, Pace began his pitch.
“We have too many folks fighting in Washington,” he said, and added that that elected officials must work together.
“If that gets done …” a doubtful Allen Frieze cut in.
“I believe it!” Pace responded.
“If that happens, the moon will stop moving,” said Frieze, 64.
This is the landscape that Tipton and Pace navigate as they travel the district from Pueblo to the New Mexico state line, from posh Aspen to the conservative bedrock of Grand Junction and the western half of the state. No other Colorado district has swung between Democrat and Republican more often than the 3rd, ensuring a competitive race each election.
Tipton won the seat in 2010 by knocking off Democratic Rep. John Salazar, a result many considered an upset. Republican Scott McInnis held the seat before Salazar.
That forces Tipton and Pace to sometimes take positions unusual for their parties. Pace says he supports the health care overhaul but wouldn’t have voted for its individual mandate. Tipton says the law must be repealed but likes parts of it, including its insurance guarantee for patients with pre-existing conditions and its allowance for young adults to remain under their parents’ plans until they’re 26.
Tipton is distancing himself from some national Republicans who don’t want a federal wind energy tax credit renewed. The credit supports employers in his district. And both candidates say stricter gun laws aren’t needed after the Aurora movie theater massacre.
The district’s registered voters are nearly evenly divided among Republicans, Democrats and independents.
“This isn’t a place where their congressman can be an ideologue,” Pace said.
Outside spending in the race indicates that Democrats and their allies consider Tipton vulnerable.
According to the campaign finance tracker OpenSecrets.org, Democratic groups and unions have spent more than $45,000 supporting Pace and more than $32,000 opposing Tipton. On the other hand, the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent just about $6,000 on Tipton’s behalf, according to the latest disclosures.
Tipton has raised $1.6 million so far, while Pace has raised $1.1 million.
For an interesting and competitive race, it has been relatively sleepy, with Tipton and Pace each returning to familiar themes.
At town halls, Tipton tells voters government is too big, spends too much, and imposes too many regulations.
“If we’re talking about ‘government is too big,’ is that left, is that right, is that center? It’s too big. Reducing it is common sense,” he said.
Pace, meanwhile, is trying to define Tipton as contributing to the obstructionism that has made Congress so unpopular.
“People are sick of the gridlock. They’re sick of the partisanship. They’re sick of the blame game,” said Pace, a Pueblo lawmaker.
The race’s tone could change with Rep. Paul Ryan’s spot on the Republican vice presidential ticket.
Tipton supported Ryan’s budget proposal to significantly change Medicare, an idea Democrats are using to court the senior vote.
Tipton insists that the idea preserves Medicare for seniors 55 and older while giving others more control with vouchers. He says his position on health care and other issues is aimed at preventing government overreach and reducing spending, saying that’s what voters are looking for.
“There is a constant,” Tipton said about his travels in the district. “People do understand that Washington is spending too much, growing too large, and we simply cannot afford it, and we gotta be able to get people back to work.”
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)