3rd Congressional District: Both parties say grass-roots efforts strong

Mike Stratton was a bit apprehensive when he started his inspection tour of the 3rd Congressional District last week.

As one of the state’s top political strategists who works exclusively for Democratic candidates, he wasn’t sure what he’d find.

This election one of his chief tasks is to help Democrat Sal Pace unseat Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

The point of his tour was to make sure that workers and volunteers in Pace’s field offices were functioning as planned.

They were, but their enthusiasm wasn’t high.

That was before President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, squared off on their second debate.

“Since then, there’s been a really huge influx of volunteers in all the headquarters,” he said. “Any sort of perceived worry that might have been going on after the first debate has been corrected. People are really motivated now.”

Celebrate all you want at the president’s improved performance, said Tipton spokesman Michael Fortney.

Your man in the 3rd CD still is going down.

What happens in the presidential race is an entirely different matter when it comes to 3rd CD district voters, Fortney said.

“Our grass-roots effort is strong across the Third,” he said. “We have people out block-walking for all Republican candidates. We’ve over 100,000 grass-roots contacts.”

As voters began receiving their mail ballot last week and early voting centers open on Monday, both campaigns are scrambling to ensure their end games are in place.

Much of that focuses on making sure people return those ballots and go to the voting booths, both men said.

Stratton said Pace’s chances of winning are good, especially when he compares where Tipton was at this point of the race in 2010 when the Cortez Republican defeated Pace’s old boss, former U.S. Rep. John Salazar.

The Democrat did little campaigning that year, but lost the race by less than 4 percentage points.

All that in a heavily Republican year.

This year, the district’s new boundaries increased Democratic voter registrations by about 2 percent. Add that to the 2 percent to 3 percent Stratton expects a right-leaning unaffiliated candidate in the race, Tisha Casida, could get, and Pace could end up on top.

“Sal is perceived to be much stronger at this point than John (Salazar) was at this point, and people are more optimistic about Sal’s chances than they were about John,” Stratton said. “Also, in rural western Colorado, there’s a factor of people who are going to be with Sal but not Obama. It’s not huge, but it might be significant to us.”

Fortney said Casida won’t be a factor in the race any more than any of the other candidates will be, and Pace agrees too much with Obama for voters to tell a difference.

As a result, Tipton could win by a greater margin than last time.

In 2010, Libertarian Gregory Gilman won 2.18 percent of the vote, while a fourth unaffiliated candidate, Jake Secrest, won 1.91 percent.

Stratton said Casida and Gilman, who’s running again this year, could draw enough conservative votes away from Tipton to hand the seat to Pace.

Fortney disagrees.

“No, I don’t see her having an impact at all,” he repeated several times. “I don’t see her having an impact on this race.”

While the presidential race will draw more voters to the polls this year, support for several down-ticket races on the Western Slope, particularly for seats in the Colorado House, also will drive more Democrats to polls than they did two years ago, Stratton said.

The Democratic candidates in three of those races ­— HD59 in southwest Colorado, HD26 in Eagle and Routt counties, and HD61, which stretches from Delta County to the Summit Valley ­— have far outraised their Republican opponents, some by tens of thousands of dollars.

When voters show up to support those candidates, they’ll also vote for Pace and Obama, Stratton said.

Again, Fortney disagrees.

Like the presidential contest, those down-ticket races won’t impact the Tipton-Pace race, either, he said.

“Voters of the Thirds know who Scott Tipton is, so they’ll be able to make an independent assessment of what Scott’s been able to do, of the bill Scott’s been able to pass with bipartisan support,” Fortney said. “They’ll be able to look at our race individually.”


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