Scott Tipton rode into Congress on a wave of Republican enthusiasm that characterized elections across the country in 2010. Just two years later, that same small-government fervor may come back to bite the incumbent.
Potentially outflanking Tipton from his right, Pueblo County native and entrepreneur Tisha Casida is seeking the 3rd District seat as an independent. She was inspired to run by presidential candidate and Tea Party favorite U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican.
Although a newcomer to politics, Casida could siphon votes from Tipton as he battles state House Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, in what is already a tight race to represent the swing district.
But Casida has to make the ballot before she can hinder Tipton’s campaign, and that takes 800 valid signatures turned in by July 2. (The legislature extended the deadline by a month in a bill passed this year.) She hadn’t turned in petitions by press time but said she was confident she’ll make the ballot.
“We have the numbers,” she said, adding that it depends on how many signatures the secretary of state’s office validates.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call says Casida’s campaign doesn’t concern him, but, as The Colorado Statesman first reported, he had contacted Casida and urged her to reconsider shortly after she first announced her candidacy.
Call told The Statesman he was trying to help Casida by encouraging her instead to run for local office, where she could build a constituency and gain a better understanding of state politics.
Casida, he said, is still trying to “overcome the cold truth that if she wanted to run for Congress and actually implement policy that impacts the community, she would have sought the Republican Party nomination.”
“If she cites Ron Paul as an example, then she should follow that example,” Call added, noting that Paul has never left the GOP.
Casida countered that the Republican Party’s treatment of Paul is what led her to run as an independent.
“There’s an extreme bias in the Republican Party as far as the top echelons go,” she said. “The decision-makers don’t like Ron Paul’s message of small government and constitutionality. The leadership of the Republican Party isn’t on board with his message at all.”
Nonetheless, Call says he’s confident that conservative 3rd District voters are “too smart” to vote for Casida.
“(They) know that if they vote for anyone other than the Republican, they’re voting for Sal Pace,” Call said.
Becky Mizel, who chairs the Pueblo County GOP, said that every candidate should be taken seriously. She described Casida as a “worker” who “gets out there.”
If Casida had taken Call’s advice and chosen instead to run for local office, Mizel said, Republicans would have embraced her.
“The Republican Party has a big tent. We could have included her in that tent,” Mizel said, and then added, “I don’t see her winning in her current position.”
Republicans have a considerable advantage in the district, according to the most recent voter registration figures compiled by the secretary of state’s office. Through the end of April, 39.32 percent of active voters are Republicans. Democrats trail with 30.84 percent, unaffiliated voters make up 28.99 percent, and voters from minor parties amount to 0.85 percent.
In 2010, Tipton unseated three-term Democratic incumbent John Salazar with 50 percent of the vote to Salazar’s 46 percent.
In order to take on Salazar, Tipton, then a state representative, first had to defeat Steamboat Springs resident Bob McDonnell. (Tipton won with 56 percent of the vote to McDonnell’s 44 percent.)
Casida’s platform echoes McDonnell’s. Both candidates have said that slashing federal spending and putting an end to the Federal Reserve are top priorities.
It is worth noting that Tipton, unlike fellow Republicans Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman, doesn’t belong to the Congressional Tea Party caucus.
Randy Scott, who heads the Southern Colorado Tea Party, said that a Tipton representative has attended every recent monthly meeting of the organization. “Most Tea Party members are satisfied with what he’s doing,” Scott said.
Casida, on the other hand, is something of a stranger to the group, said Scott, noting that he has only spoken with her a few times in the last year. (The group doesn’t endorse candidates.)
Although Casida’s platform mostly aligns with Tea Party principles, she said she doesn’t “completely” identify with the movement.
“Any type of party or group of interests erodes the rights of the individual,” she said.
Sheldon Bloedorn, a former chair of the Southern Colorado Tea Party, said that Tipton’s voting record has been “very sound” from a conservative standpoint.
“He’s done everything he said he would do,” Bloedorn said. “He is definitely part of the established Republican Party, but as such he is a certifiable conservative.”
Asked which of her opponent’s positions rub her the wrong way, Casida didn’t hesitate to call Tipton’s support of CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, an example of corporate influence in Congress. President Obama has suggested he might veto the bill, which authorizes information sharing between government agencies and Internet companies, citing privacy concerns.
Casida also flagged Tipton’s support of House Speaker John Boehner’s budget proposals as conflicting with small-government principles.
“If you pick apart what these guys continually pass, they can have really negative consequences,” Casida said.
Tipton’s campaign manager Michael Fortney declined to comment on Casida’s criticisms.
Casida’s platform advocates for strict adherence to the constitution and a smaller role for government, especially the Federal Reserve. “You can’t legislate morality,” she says, referring to questions on abortion and drug policy.
She views the national debt as an impending disaster and calls for immediate, massive spending cuts. State-based currencies could help solve looming fiscal problems, she suggests.
“The only way to get out of the debt cycle is to create more economic growth by cutting the bureaucracy and the red tape that is strangling small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Casida said.
Casida said the sprawling district’s culture encourages independent candidacies.
“Because it’s so agriculturally based and sparsely laid out, the people are very familiar with the tenants of self-sustainability,” Casida said.
She isn’t the only independent candidate running in the district.
Durango lawyer and investment advisor Jaime McMillan — who briefly flirted with a run for the House District 59 seat as a Democrat — plans to run as a write-in candidate, which he can accomplish simply by filing a notice with state officials by the middle of next month.
“We had the right horse, but we were in the wrong race,” McMillan said.