By Leslie Jorsensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Republican delegates to the 4th Congressional District Assembly will meet Friday, May 21, in Loveland to choose a nominee to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. John Salazar in the general election. When the 648 delegates gather in the Embassy Suites Hotel’s Mountain Holly Room, they’ll have a clear choice between candidates Scott Tipton, a state representative, and lawyer Bob McConnell.
The Republican race is one of the most riveting and contentious in this election cycle.
The candidates share many of the same conservative values, but vary on style. McConnell said that he’s more impassioned to make changes in Washington, D.C. than Tipton and the Democratic incumbent.
“I’m a winner. I’m the guy who can beat Salazar,” declared McConnell. “What differentiates me from Scott is my unwillingness to compromise on core values.”
“That’s absolutely ridiculous!” exclaimed Jeff Dakar, Tipton’s campaign manager.
“Scott has focused his campaign on defeating Salazar,” said Dakar. “Scott brings small business experience to the table — he understands what it takes to balance the budget and meet the payroll. His legislative experience and working with people is very valuable.”
On the campaign trail, Tipton also sounds hot to trot and vows to buck liberals in Congress.
“Help me fire John Salazar and I will help you fire Nancy Pelosi!” pledges Tipton in stump speeches, the campaign newsletter and contribution pitches.
Tipton describes himself as a native Coloradan, small businessman, legislator and conservative Republican. McConnell introduces himself as “a man of faith, a Constitution-carrying, conservative Republican… (and) a recovering lawyer” who served in the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Army.
When Tipton announced that the National Republican Congressional Committee had promoted his candidacy from “on the radar” to “young gun,” McConnell fired back that he’s been a “top gun” since 1969, when he graduated with honors from the Army Ranger School.
McConnell boasts endorsements from Combat Veterans for Congress, Arizona’s Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack and the Grand Junction Results, Bear’s Ears Patriot and Southern Colorado “Tea Party” groups. The candidate has accused Tipton of being “dismissive and disparaging” of the “Tea Party” endorsements.
“We need to get beyond sour grapes and unite conservatives,” declared the retired Colonel.
Tipton touts endorsements by Republican 6th District Congressman Mike Coffman, former 5th Congressional District candidate Jeff Crank and the board of directors of the Western Slope Conservative Alliance, a “tea party” organization.
Another coup for Tipton is a contribution from 9th Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson, who withdrew from the Republican 3rd Congressional District race.
If campaign contributions are viewed as endorsements, Tipton has the support of political power players who include Robinson Dairy CEO Richard Robinson, Philip and Nancy Anschutz, former U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong, former U.S. Senate candidate and state Senator Terry Considine, former gubernatorial candidate Marc Holtzman, Pueblo Chieftain Assistant Publisher Jane Rawlings, U.S. Senate candidate Tom Wiens, a former state Senator, former Colorado Speaker of the House Lola Spradley and Lori McInnis, wife of GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis, a former 3rd District Congressman.
McConnell’s campaign also has been fueled by a few heavy hitters including Jay Jensen of Aspen, Michael Johnson of Durango, A. M. O’Hare of Ignacio and Dean Van Gundy of Grand Junction. McConnell’s quarterly report to the Federal Elections Commission also listed $1,000 from Lisa Grace-Kellogg of Agoura Hills, California. Grace-Kellogg is also a Republican candidate for House District 64, a seat held by Democratic state Rep. Wes McKinley.
“I’m running a lean, mean, grassroots campaign fueled by support, prayers and people,” said McConnell.
During the election cycle, McConnell has raised $44,127, including his contribution of $17,212, and has $18,385 cash on hand. Tipton has raised $250,548, including the candidate’s $1,850 in-kind donation for mileage, and has $191,197 cash on hand.
Tipton grew up in Cortez, majored in political science at Fort Lewis College in Durango, and proudly tells folks that he was the first college graduate in his family. He and his brother, Joe Tipton, established Mesa Verde Indian Pottery — and 30 years later, the artisan business has gained a worldwide reputation and is thriving.
Something of a “comeback kid” in politics, Tipton won election in House District 58 in 2008, two years after waging an unsuccessful congressional campaign against Salazar.
McConnell enlisted in the Army and became a combat pilot in Vietnam, graduated from University of Tennessee Law School, and served as legal counsel at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs and later Fort Monmouth in New Jersey.
At the end of a 30-year active and reserve military career, McConnell practiced employment law at law firms in Colorado Springs from 1987 to 1999. He then co-founded K.B. Mountain Adventures in Westcliffe and in 2007, McConnell moved with his wife Phyllis to Steamboat Springs.
McConnell said he’s confident that he’ll garner at least 30 percent of the delegate vote to make the Republican primary ballot. If not, he doesn’t plan to petition onto the ballot. Dakar said surveys indicate that Tipton will gain the majority of delegate votes — and avoid a primary.
The candidates will each be granted 15 minutes for nominating, seconding and campaign speeches at the assembly. The rules require that nomination speeches be made by a registered Republican in the 3rd Congressional District, and seconds be made by registered Republicans residing in the state.
“I’ll have some exciting people doing my nomination and seconds,” said McConnell. “But I’m disappointed that the rules prevent one of my speakers — my beautiful Irish-Hispanic granddaughter, 9-year-old Sophia McConnell.”
According to Dakar, the Tipton campaign has not finalized the list of nomination and seconding speakers; however, they will be representative of the district’s communities. The congressional district, which stretches across Colorado’s western slope and southern border to Pueblo, includes 29 counties.
Both Tipton and McConnell will host hospitality suites on the day of the GOP 3rd CD assembly — and ironically, they’ll be located right next to each other in Embassy Suites.
Other candidates waiting in the wings to challenge Salazar are Libertarian Gregory Gilman of Westcliffe, and Independent candidates John W. Hargis of Del Norte, Allan D. Stoutenger of Grand Junction and Jake Segrest of Fruita.