PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) — It’s crunch time in Colorado’s largest, and mostly rural, congressional district where campaigns have gotten help from outside spending in what’s considered one of the state’s most competitive seats.

Supporters of freshman Republican Rep. Scott Tipton are working hard to paint Democratic challenger Sal Pace as a tax-raiser, and they’re getting a good bit of help in the form of $1.5 million from a big conservative spending group.

The investment appears to be paying dividends in the 3rd Congressional District, from the way Tipton spoke to volunteers at a Pueblo Republican office Saturday morning.

“We have done our polling, we look good,” Tipton, 55, told dozens of cheering volunteers. He wouldn’t elaborate on the numbers but said, “We’re in position that we should win this race.”

Pace, the Democrats’ former leader in the state House, said victory is in reach for him, too. He’s criticized the deep-pocketed, out-of-state interest groups rallying to the GOP incumbent but also says it’s a sign Republicans are worried about Tipton. Americans for Tax Reform, led by conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, dropped a $1.5 million television ad buy in October — the largest in the race so far.

Pace, 35, has said he supports most of the Obama administration health care law but believes there could have been an alternative plan to requiring everyone to buy insurance. The television ad from ATR, and ads paid by Tipton’s campaign, both allege Pace supports tax increases, particularly on seniors.

Pace called the ads misleading.

“If for some reason Tipton gets elected, it’s going to be because a whole litany of lies,” Pace said. “If I win this election, I’m going to be able to look at myself in the mirror.”

Pace has also gotten large boosts from outside groups, including $281,674 from Service Employees International Union and $423,167 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to the campaign finance tracker OpenSecrets.org.

“He sounds like a desperate candidate who’s grasping for his final straw,” said Tipton campaign manager Michael Fortney. “And one who has also received financial assistance from outside groups. So if I was Sal Pace and living in that glass house, I’d be very careful before starting to throw stones.”

The outside spending underscores how attractive the district is for both parties because voter registration splits nearly evenly among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated, which can create tossups in some races. And voters here frequently switch back between Democrats and Republicans. Tipton was elected in 2010 by defeating Democratic Rep. John Salazar.

The district is geographically the biggest in the state, covering southern Colorado and the Western Slope up to the Wyoming state line.

Pace has tried to appeal to voters with the message that he would collaborate with both parties in Congress, and there’s too much bickering and gridlock right now.

“And (Tipton’s) helping that message because he’s been a 100 percent partisan and a 100 percent negative in his campaign,” Pace said.

Tipton has said the bills he’s gotten through the House have had Democratic support. A former pottery dealer from Cortez, Tipton said he knows how people have been impacted by the slumping economy.

“I have lived the life, and the struggles that people out there right now, that not only work for businesses but maybe own a small business, have lived through,” he said.

But Pace has blamed Tipton for Congress’ lapsing on extending a wind energy tax credit, saying Titpon has been “too lazy or partisan to do anything about it.” Tipton supports extending the tax credit, which many Republicans oppose, but he has said the House won’t agree to it unless there are cuts to pay for it.

The lapsed credit has been blamed for layoffs at a Pueblo wind turbine manufacturer.

Fortney said Titpon will continue working with Democrats to find a way to extend the tax credit.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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