One of the tighter primary races this season is the Democratic primary in Colorado’s expansive and western 3rd Congressional District. Two candidates are vying to take on Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton in November.
Democrat James Iacino is a political newcomer. What motivates his first campaign are his two young kids and the direction the country is headed.
“Divisiveness that we're seeing and just the level of rhetoric. And I felt that it was my duty to serve my country and step up and fight for their future,” he says.
He’s a third-generation Coloradan, who worked his way up in the family’s seafood business. Iacino thinks that’s the type of experience voters want.
As campaigns went digital because of the coronavirus pandemic, Iacino shifted to virtual events like Saturday talks with small business owners. It’s one way to connect with people, and more importantly, get voters to know more about him. After all, the candidate he’s running against in the primary is a known quantity.
Diane Mitsch Busch has lived on the Western Slope for decades. She’s a former Routt County commissioner and a former state representative.
“I know how to legislate. I know how to follow the facts. And I always tell the truth. And that’s what we need,” she says.
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She also ran against incumbent Scott Tipton in 2018 and lost. She says she learned a lot from that race, which will help her this time around. And Mitsch Bush is already looking beyond Iacino to Tipton — criticizing him for his votes in Congress.
“He’s voted with the president almost 97 percent of the time. And in many ways, a lapdog, if you will, of the president,” she said. According to the FiveThirtyEight political website, Tipton’s voted with President Trump about 95 percent of the time.
That closeness to Trump may play well in this conservative district. While the demographics are shifting, it’s not a toss-up seat yet. This is where Iacino sees his opening. He says it’s not about a red team or a blue team. He’s swinging for the center.
“Moderates are looking for something different. They don't want the extremes on either side,” he explains. “And I think everybody's kind of tired of what they see as the 5 percent extremes getting all the news coverage and not talking about how is this actually affecting me, and can we actually compromise, and can we move forward.”
Iacino placed first in assembly with over 49 percent to qualify for the ballot, while Mitsch Bush came a close second, with more than 47 percent to qualify. Both candidates can point to high profile state Democrats who support their campaign. Iacino’s received endorsements from former Rep. John Salazar, the man that Tipton beat for the seat, as well as former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Attorney General Phil Weiser and dozens of local leaders.
Mitsch Bush, who has endorsements from former Sen. Mark Udall, the AFL-CIO and local leaders, says her experience will help her stand out with voters.
“Many people in our district are struggling to make ends meet. There's a great deal of income inequality in our district, lack of social mobility, and James and I are both concerned about these issues,” she says. “But the difference is I've experienced them. I know what it is to live paycheck to paycheck.”
The two aren’t that far apart on issues such as economic opportunity. Iacino is a gun owner who thinks gun safety should be discussed. He supports a public option for health care, advocates for term limits, and would work on the climate crisis. Iacinao describes himself as “progressive, but pragmatic.”
Mitsch Bush says she’d support a public health care option, with the goal of moving toward universal care. She would push to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, invest in renewable energy and would want to see more infrastructure investment, including rural broadband.
Both Iacino and Mitsch Bush say they’ll support whoever the eventual Democratic nominee is.
“We need a representative who listens to us, who works for us, and who actually does represent us,” she says.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hopes this is the year a Democrat takes Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Both Iacino and Mitsch Bush outraised Tipton in pre-primary fundraising, as well as the first quarter. But the incumbent Republican still has more cash on hand.