3rd U.S. House race heating up

But Tipton-Pace battle below national radar

Rep. Scott Tipton and Sal Pace are fighting it out alone for the Western Slope’s congressional seat.

Even as Pace, a Pueblo Democrat, and Tipton, a Cortez Republican, increase their jabs at each other, it appears they both are on their own, as their party leaders in Washington have turned their resources to other races.

Pace is pushing a two-pronged message. He presents himself as a bipartisan workhorse who can help Congress move past its partisan paralysis. On the other hand, he assails Tipton as ethically shaky and in thrall to the tea party.

Tipton’s campaign replies that Pace is running as someone other than his true self – a liberal out of touch with Western Colorado voters.

The dynamic was on full display Sept. 8 at a debate in Grand Junction, when Pace accused Tipton of avoiding taxes by classifying his campaign staff as contract workers. Tipton said he’s using common practice for temporary workers.

“There are a lot of seasonal industries in the 3rd District, from farms to ski areas, and they pay their taxes. Why does Congressman Tipton refuse to live by the same rules as the rest of us?” Pace Campaign Manager Chad Obermiller said in a prepared statement.

Tipton hit back by questioning Pace about whether he supported a single-payer health-care system in which the government replaces insurance companies. Pace said he thought the idea would make sense only if the system could be designed anew, but it couldn’t work in today’s world.

“Sal thinks raising taxes to fund a government-provided, government-run health-care system would allow businesses to thrive and rein in spending?” Tipton said in a news release. “Washington does not need another politician who has not spent a day of their life in the private sector telling businesses what will make them competitive. Sal’s idea of what makes the private sector tick is baffling.”

The next, and possibly final, debate is scheduled Oct. 10 in Pueblo. Pace is prodding Tipton for more debates, including one at Fort Lewis College.

“We’ve debated or are scheduled to debate in Alamosa, Grand Junction and Pueblo. As the largest city in southwestern Colorado, Durango should be on that list, too,” Pace said.

Pace also has accused Tipton of not pushing hard enough against his party on bills that are good for the district but violate GOP orthodoxy, such as a tax credit for wind producers and the farm bill, which is loaded with benefit payments for farmers.

But it has been a lonely fight so far.

In a year dominated by dire warnings of Super PACs and other well-heeled groups, this race has remained free of outside spending by groups such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The NRCC was spending hefty sums in 30 districts around the country last week, and the DCCC and the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC were spending in nearly as many. But Tipton’s district wasn’t one of them.

The Service Employees International Union is the only outside group to get involved so far, spending about $67,000 to canvass for Pace.

National Democrats have bought $2.5 million worth of ads on Denver TV in October, but those spots might be used on a pair of hot races in the Denver suburbs.

Pace has run two television ads on stations across the sprawling district. Tipton’s campaign went on the air in smaller markets Wednesday. It has bought time in the Denver market later in October, including a single $30,000 commercial during the Sunday night Denver Broncos game 10 days before Election Day.

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