There was a short period in the last 17 years when Colorado Republicans boasted having 5 of the 7 congressional seats. Republican Scott Tipton regained the 3rd Congressional District (CD) from John Salazar in 2010, but Republicans had lost the Western and Northern Denver suburban district to Ed Perlmutter in 2006. In 2018, they lost the Arapahoe and Douglas counties seat to Jason Crow. Today, they are in danger of losing the Southern and Western Slope 3rd CD due to the loss of its five-term incumbent Scott Tipton’s surprise defeat. If that happens, Republicans will have only two seats left.
Historically, the 3rd CD has been a Colorado swing district. It sprawls from Pueblo in Southern Colorado through most of the Western Slope. It had a Republican representative from the 1940s to 1964 and the Goldwater debacle. Then, Democrats Frank Evans and Ray Kogovsek held it until 1984. It then shifted between Republican and Democrat until Scott Tipton won it in the 2010 Tea Party year.
The race was not considered competitive with Tipton as the candidate, even considering Donald Trump’s pending loss in Colorado. Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016 while losing the state by 5, and Tipton beat the newly designated nominee, Diane Mitsch Bush, by 8 points (52% to 44%) in 2018, a very poor year statewide for Republicans. But without the incumbent, the district’s history of oscillating between the parties became more plausible. The district tends to follow its own light. The last Democrat to win, John Salazar, captured the 3rd CD in 2004 as George W. Bush won the state by 5 points. But, he lost it in 2010 in the Tea Party backlash, even while Democrats John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet won their races for governor and senate, respectfully.
Tipton was beaten by Lauren Boebert, a gun-packing Trump advocate and bar owner from Rifle. Most observers attribute it to her public relations ability (challenging Beto O’Rourke, refusing to shutdown), hard work and an alignment with the district’s most conservative values. Tipton’s sparse campaign did not take her seriously enough.
The Denver Democratic establishment thought the district needed a change and endorsed businessman James Iacino. But local Democrats preferred a rerun with Mitsch Bush.
This time around, can Mitsch Bush run closer in Mesa, stronger in La Plata, win the Latino Rio Grande Valley and bring Pueblo back into the Democratic column? If so, the race could be competitive. Boebert is colorful and will be a favorite of the conservative media, broadcast and digital, but is she too extreme for regular Republicans and moderate unaffiliated voters? Expect a high-profile, expensive, competitive race.