Colorado Votes: Candidates Tussle for Third Congressional Seat

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[From left: Republican incumbent Scott Tipton, independent candidate Tisha Casida, and Democrat Sal Pace, at the Club 20 debate in Grand Junction on September 8th. Photo: Elise Thatcher]

Colorado’s third Congressional district is the state’s largest, covering much of the Western Slope and parts of Southern Colorado... including Chimney Rock, the country’s newest national monument. As part of our election series, Colorado Votes, Reporter Elise Thatcher files this story about the race to represent that district in Congress.

Note: This is a revised version to correct the name of one of the minor party candidates in the race. Here is a transcript of Elise's report:

Reporter: Republican Incumbent Scott Tipton and Democratic challenger Sal Pace disagree on a lot of things. But both of them say they want to protect a major government program - Medicare. Here’s Pace’s recent TV ad about his dad, who relied on it after suffering a heart attack.

Advertisement: Without Medicare, he wouldn’t have health care. I approve this message, because we have to balance the budget without cutting Medicare or raising premiums.

Reporter: Tipton has called the ad deceiving, because it doesn’t show pace”s father’s real house. Pace says they filmed elsewhere for privacy. Tipton came out with his own TV spot, saying he won’t let Medicare die, either.

Advertisement: My opponent, Sal Pace, supports Obamacare, which cuts Medicare by over seven hundred billion dollars. I think that’s wrong.

Reporter: Pace does support the Affordable Care Act—which doesn't cut standard Medicare benefits, but reduces payments to a related optional program. Pace’s campaign points out that Tipton has voted for a budget that would cut about the same amount from Medicare, though Tipton says he later voted for a newer version of the budget that would funnel all of those cuts back into Medicare. Pace had another criticisms for Tipton at a recent debate in Grand Junction.

Sal Pace: My promise is, you’ll never get a headline like this, out of me, when I’m your congressman. Tipton violates house rules, in the Denver Post. [clapping]

Reporter: That article was from earlier this year, when Tipton’s Congressional office promoted a campaign event…which is against House rules. Tipton’s office says a junior staffer made an honest mistake during the confusion over redistricting. Scott Tipton is from Cortez, in Southwest Colorado, and he’s been in office for one term, after unseating well-known Democratic Congressman John Salazar. Energy development and jobs are key issues in the third congressional district, and at the debate, Tipton pointed to legislation he co-sponsored this year.

Scott Tipton: This bill will require the Secretary of Interior working with the Secretary of Agriculture to actually develop a plan for responsible development of these resources on our public lands, based off of on 30 years non partisan estimate of energy needs in this country.

Reporter: That bill was rolled into other legislation that passed the House of Representatives this June. It included renewable energy, which is significant in the district.There are large solar power projects in the San Luis Valley and the Vestas wind turbine plant in Pueblo. The company announced layoffs this summer because of uncertainty over a wind tax credit, which both candidates say they would extend. Democratic challenger Sal Pace is from Pueblo, and was a state representative for six years—one of them as House Minority leader. It can be a partisan job, though Pace did vote with Republicans on some issues, like gun rights. At the debate earlier this month, he said he was open to thinking outside party lines when it comes to government spending.

Sal Pace: This is a critical issue for the future of the country, I’m a Democrat who’s willing to buck my own party and say that I believe in a balanced budget amendment. We can balance the budget, as we have in Colorado.

Reporter: Both Tipton and Pace raised more than a million dollars in campaign donations as of late June. And much of their spending will be on TV ads from now until the election. Like most Colorado congressional districts, the third has other, less well-known names on the ballot -- independent candidate Tisha Casida and Libertarian Gregory Gilman. But they have raised a tiny fraction of the money the major candidates have, and haven’t been invited to most of the debates. The next is scheduled for October 10th, in Pueblo.