Republican Scott Tipton defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. John Salazar in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District race, riding a national wave that saw Republicans take over the U.S. House by a healthy margin.
Tipton led Salazar 49 percent to 47 percent early Wednesday morning, with 95 percent of precincts reporting.
Tipton opened a lead in early returns and never relinquished it. Classified as a toss-up by many news organizations, Tipton said in an interview with the Herald that he was “cautiously optimistic” that he could win the race, even though many considered him an underdog.
“Whenever you’re running against an incumbent, particularly a three-term one with the name Salazar, you’re dealing with a powerful political machine,” Tipton said.
Until a few months ago, it looked as if Salazar would easily win a fourth term. But the race became competitive after Tipton won the Republican nomination and outside money began pouring into Colorado, a state often considered a bellwether for the electoral mood of the country. Outside groups spent more than $3.5 million on the race, according to numbers compiled by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
“Probably Salazar had a false confidence in the 3rd Congressional District electorate. I think he thought his substantial victories in ’06 and ’08 and his sort of moderate voting record put him in good standing in what everyone considered a difficult year. But what he missed is that the definition of what is efficiently conservative shifted in this election and that just being a Democrat, even a Blue Dog Democrat, was a vulnerability,” said Floyd Ciruli, a Colorado pollster and news analyst.
Salazar tried to paint Tipton as an extremist and called him out for a fundraising letter in which Tipton said his dream was of a federal government half its present size.
Tipton instead focused on Salazar’s voting record in Washington, frequently linking the congressman to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama.
In a subsequent interview with the Herald, Salazar said he had no regrets about his voting record, including his “yes” on the health-care bill.
“I wouldn’t change a single vote that I’ve taken,” he said.
Tipton pledged that he would seek no special earmarks if elected, and all spending for his district would have to pass through the regular appropriations process in Congress.
Salazar won appointment to the House Appropriations Committee – the committee that approves and denies earmark requests – in 2009. The coveted position allows representatives to direct spending to their districts. He is the only Coloradan on the Appropriations Committee.
Last night’s race was a rematch of the 2006 election, which Salazar won by a decisive 61 to 36 percent margin.
Ciruli said that while Salazar previously won by large margins, the 3rd District – which went for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election – is largely conservative.
“While it is an exceptionally good Republican year, that district never is one that you can be comfortable in as a Democrat. You always have to run hard,” he said.
firstname.lastname@example.org Tamar Hallerman is an American University intern for The Durango Herald.