Lottery director a long shot, but Tipton’s hold on House seat is no slam dunk
For Colorado Republicans running for re-election in 2014, perhaps the best takeaway from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising loss is that there is no such thing as a safe seat in this election.
That was certainly the message proclaimed by House Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, when he endorsed Democratic candidate Abel Tapia for the Colorado 3rd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House earlier this month.
Tapia is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Tipton for his seat in the House of Representatives. Unlike Cantor, who lost in his GOP primary race to a formidable local upstart, so long as the tea party Republicans control the balance of power in the district, Tipton is relatively safe.
His far-right primary opponent, Palisade’s David Cox, made a surprise showing at the 3rd Congressional Republican Assembly, where he won nearly 34 percent of the delegates.
Acknowledging that the 3rd District is not a “red to blue” target district for the national party, Hoyer said at a Denver fundraiser for Tapia, “If we’re going to take back the House and change the direction that America is going in, we’re going to have to win some districts that aren’t the targeted districts.”
Hoyer believes Tipton is vulnerable, even without major financial support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for Tapia.
As Tapia wryly pointed out to the Aspen Times, “Scott Tipton unseated an incumbent, John Salazar, so it’s not unprecedented.”
Tapia believes that, just as 3rd District voters were ready for a change when they turned Salazar out of office, “the same situation exists today,” he told the Aspen Times. “With dissatisfaction over the gridlock in Washington, D.C., I don’t think incumbents have a slam dunk.”
“It’s not like this district is an unreachable height,” Hoyer said at a Denver fund raiser. “This is a 48-percent district, give or take. This is that close. All we really needed was to have an extraordinarily good candidate.”
Democrats believe they have that candidate in Tapia, a former state senator from Pueblo.
After building a successful engineering business, Pueblo native Tapia launched a political career that carried him from the Pueblo school board to the state House of Representatives, and finally to the state Senate.
After being term limited out of his Senate seat in 2010, he was appointed director of the Colorado Lottery, the position from which he retired.
After a short retirement, Tapia said he couldn’t “stand around and be idle” in a speech reported by the Durango Herald. “I’m all about getting something done.”
Tapia might point out that his opponent has done exactly that. Putting his mind in idle, he has thoughtlessly voted with the tea party Congress 82 percent of the time.
Most of these votes, including those to shut down the government, cut the safety net for America’s unfortunate. His support to turn the Affordable Care Act into a voucher system has won him high praise from the right for his fidelity to extremist conservative positions, but has done little to strengthen the declining middle class in Colorado or the nation.
The vast majority of his votes — including more than 50 to repeal the Affordable Care Act that has added thousands of Coloradans to private insurance rolls and significantly reduced the state’s uninsured population — have been to impede progress rather than encourage it.
Tapia told the Durango crowd he’s a “proven champion of Colorado’s middle class,” as he laid out a platform emphasizing education and rural development.
He also called for reducing dependence on foreign oil, including developing wind, solar and geothermal alternatives to fossil fuels.
Tapia’s primary concern, however, is education. As he said in Durango, “Education should come first, before everything else.”
Tapia is a long shot at best.
Not only is he taking on an incumbent well funded by the Koch brothers and other GOP oligarchs, he started the race late, lacks major funding from his party and faces a disparity in voter registration in the district.
But, as Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio points out, the 3rd District “can go one way or the other. Depending on the mood of the electorate.”
The mood is not good for Tipton.
With the tea party demoralized and shrinking nationwide, Tipton may no longer be able to count on the GOP turnout he needs to win unless he offers something more than continued gridlock in Congress. Even Republican voters are tired of that.
As for Tapia, his experience running the lottery has surely taught him that long shots do sometimes win.