By John Seiler | For Colorado Watchdog
If Democrats have a chance to retake the U.S. House of Representatives in November, they’ll have to win two races for GOP seats in Colorado.
The Democrats’ best chance is in the 3rd Congressional District, which sprawls across most of the western side of the state to the southeastern part up to Pueblo.
“Energy dominates on the west side of the district, while Pueblo is an old steel town,” Sean Paige, a former editorial page editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette and former city councilman, told me. “It’s a very diverse and interesting district. Pueblo is union-oriented and has a large Hispanic population.”
Referred to as “Steel City,” about half of Pueblo’s 106,595 residents are Hispanics.
The Republican running in the 3rd District is incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton, a businessman from the Southwest corner of the state.
“Not a great campaigner,” Republican political consultant Patrick Davis told me. “He talks a great game about working hard, but is lazy.”
He said Tipton’s forte has been taking the side of the Western Slope against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, boosting fracking energy development and opposing the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, referred to as Obamacare.
His opponent, Democrat Sal Pace, is an incumbent member of the Colorado House of Representatives whose district covers part of Pueblo. His nomination sets up a classic Pueblo vs. Western Slope confrontation.
Paige said an intermediate area in the district is San Luis Valley, which includes part of south-central Colorado and dips over into New Mexico. Its economy centers around farming. Pace has an advantage there, because he ran the U.S. House campaign of John Salazar that defeated Tipton in 2006, an anti-Republican year because of the unpopularity of President George W. Bush. In turn, Tipton defeated Salazar in 2010, the anti-Obama year.
“Pace knows how to defeat Tipton,” Davis said. “So far, he has out-worked him and out-messaged him.”
Salazar is the brother of Obama’s Secretary of the Department of the Interior Ken Salazar, who is also the former U.S. senator from Colorado. Paige said John Salazar, a farmer and rancher, has “stayed closer to the family,” which has roots in the Southwestern United States going back to the 16th century.
“His credentials of ‘boots in the soil’ are better than Ken’s. John wears a bolo tie and appears to be conservative,” Paige said.
This could help Pace in the Valley.
But Pace’s problem is on the Western Slope, where “he doesn’t have the greatest record supporting the oil and gas industry. But Scott Tipton does. Tipton learned that at the feet of Scott McInniss, who represented the area in the state House from 1983 to 1993 and the U.S. House from 1993 to 2005. The energy boom of recent years has fueled economic and population growth in the area, aiding Tipton.
“Pace is more urban and liberal,” Paige said. “How he would represent the western side of the district is baffling to me. Take him out of Pueblo and he’s a fish out of water.”
With the 3rd District on a knife’s edge between the two parties, the race likely will be decided on how successful the presidential candidates are in the district, especially on voter turnout.
Colorado’s 6th District
Colorado’s new 6th District is more favorable to the Republicans, but not by much. The 6th formerly was a large district that was somewhat northeast of the 3rd District and long was represented by Republican Tom Tancredo, most famous for strongly opposing immigration. Now, the 6th includes the southern suburbs of Denver, then runs over to Aurora to the east of the capital city. Aurora is “among the most racially and socioeconomically diverse cities in Colorado,” according to The Denver Post.
The incumbent, Mike Coffman, is a strong conservative Republican, who painted a bull’s eye on his own back in May when he said, “I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.”
He later issued an apology, “I misspoke and I apologize. I have confidence in President Obama’s citizenship and legitimacy as president of the United States.” But the damage was done.
“That was a big misstep,” Dan Njegomir, a Colorado media consultant and former Gazette editorial page editor, told me. “Coffman wasn’t really a birther,” meaning someone who’s a conspiracy theorist about the president’s place of birth.
“But everyone went nuts. It didn’t help him in the district,” Njegomir said. “The earth shifted beneath him. He then made an apology in a weird incantation and repeated it with a zombie-like gaze. There’s a video of it.
“Having said all that, I don’t think he’s toast. He’s still a hard-working politician and has raised more money than his opponent.”
Opposing Coffman is Democrat Joe Miklosi, currently a member of the state House of Representatives. His background is almost entirely in politics, not the private sector. “His strengths are that he’s a traditional Democrat,” political consultant Davis observed. “He’s likeable, not a bomb-thrower. He’s definitely reasonable.”
After Coffman’s birther gaffe, Miklosi charged, “If folks thought the extremism of Tancredo was gone, they’ll find out he was really just replaced by a quieter version.”
According to Ballotpedia, as of June 14, Coffman had raised $857,897 and Miklosi less than half that, $408,473.
Because the district is in the Denver media area, campaign costs will be high, giving Coffman an edge. However, Miklosi campaign manager Joe Hamill told me, “Funding is going really well. People are excited about the campaign for sure.”
“This is a newly drawn district,” Davis continued. “But Coffman represented it as the state treasurer and is a sitting congressman. He has good name recognition. Mike is a very meticulous politician. This is not his first rodeo. He is on everyone’s short list for running for U.S. Senate one day. The Obama gaffe seems to have blown over. But this will not be an easy re-election campaign.”
A big problem for Miklosi is that he moved into the district only in February, bringing charges that he’s a carpetbagger. This caused a stir because, after moving to Aurora, he no longer lived in the district he represented in the state House. Reported The Colorado Observer, “Colorado law only specifies that legislators or legislative candidates live in the district for the 12 months preceding the election. That means Miklosi’s move to Aurora is legal, even if it’s not entirely politically advantageous.”
Because the district includes Aurora, the election could be affected by the July 20 mass shooting there that killed 12 people and wounded 58 at the premiere of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.”
“This was the type of violence that I would have expected when I served in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps but never here at home,” said Coffman. “My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims and their families.”
Hamill sent me this statement from Miklosi, about the prayer vigil for the victims the candidate attended: “Tonight’s vigil was a beautiful testimony to the lives taken from us too soon. Thousands of people from our community were wrapping their arms of love and support around the families and friends who lost so much. I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to the first responders who acted so valiantly. We will remember.”
So far, at least, Miklosi is following Obama’s lead in not politicizing the shootings to advance a gun-control agenda. A lot of hunters and National Rifle Association members live in Colorado, including the 6th District. Many of them are Democrats or independents whose votes are needed on Election Day.
As with many other states, the rising number of Hispanics is pushing the Rocky Mountain State more into the Democratic camp. Nationwide, Hispanics vote about 70 percent Democratic. This November could show how far the Centennial State has gone in that direction.