Race in CD 3 is rematch for Salazar, Tipton

By Ellen Miller

GRAND JUNCTION — Four years after their first debate on Club 20’s fall stage, John Salazar and Scott Tipton went at it again in their race for the 3rd Congressional District to a crowd both bigger and more boisterous.

Spurred on by party rallies held for two hours before the evening debate, the crowd of about 800 cheered, booed, hissed, whistled and jeered throughout the candidate exchange, with a 2-1 advantage in size held by Republicans, about the norm for the Western Slope.

Tipton, who said a couple of times that it was “time for you, John, to come home,” at one point added, “We’re at 9-11. Let’s roll.”

The comment drew disapproving murmurs from the crowd but no outright boos and no applause.

John Salazar

But early this week, the comment became an issue in its own right when the Salazar campaign said Tipton “casually used this terrible tragedy for his own political advantage.”

“We’re mystified” by Tipton’s comment, said Salazar’s new campaign spokeswoman, Tara Trujillo, recently arrived from the staff of Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., adding that Tipton was “injecting politics on the day of remembrance for the 3,000 people who were killed…”

On Tuesday morning, Tipton spokesman Sean Walsh said the Salazar campaign’s criticism “is a lame attempt to distract voters from Salazar’s miserable performance as a legislator. No amount of smoke and mirrors can obscure Salazar’s job-killing, budget busting record in Congress.”

“Shame on John Salazar, Walsh added. “Their staff is well aware it was a galvanizing call to action. Their accusation in itself is a cynical exploitation of the heroes of 9/11.”  

Debate moderator Jim Spehar of Grand Junction had opened the event by asking for a moment of silence, since it was the ninth anniversary of 9-11. He followed that with leading the crowd in reciting the pledge of allegiance.

During the hour-long Club 20 debate, Salazar, the incumbent seeking his fourth term, and Tipton, a one-term state representative trying again to beat Salazar, debated sharply and often spoke past each other as they covered familiar ground.

Scott Tipton

Both pledged heartily to fight all efforts to reopen the Colorado River Compact, a position expected of officials regardless of party. Two years ago, then-presidential candidate John McCain brought a firestorm down on himself in the headwaters state of Colorado when he suggested reopening the water pact.

Both also called for federal policies to promote development of all domestic energy, including natural gas, oil, coal, renewables and uranium.

Their allegiance to Western Slope standard economic interests suitably declared, they went on to trash each other’s actions and positions.

Tipton repeatedly pointed out that Salazar, a Manassa Democrat, “voted 97.2 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi,” and voted for health care reform, which Tipton said he would work to “repeal and replace” with the free market.

He said Salazar had voted to increase the deficit, and he called for tax cuts and reduced government spending.

Salazar, meanwhile, attacked Tipton for suggesting that Social Security and Medicare should be phased out, repeatedly zinging Tipton for remarks made in Tipton’s successful primary campaign against tea partier favorite Bob McConnell.

Pushed to the right in the primary, Tipton returned to standard GOP talking-point criticism against Salazar.

Every time Tipton denied saying he favored phasing out the two entitlement programs for the elderly, Salazar pointed to news stories that appeared in 3rd District newspapers quoting or paraphrasing Tipton’s statements.

Salazar campaigned heavily in Mesa County during his first successful run for Congress in 2004 against Grand Junction native Greg Walcher, but spent little time in the area during successive campaigns.

Tipton, meanwhile, appears to be heading a much more ambitious campaign than his 2006 effort, with GOP state chairman Dick Wadhams predicting a Tipton victory in November.

Tipton criticized Salazar for voting for appropriations bills containing earmarks, and Salazar said it contained funding he supported for the long-delayed Lower Arkansas Conduit. “I don’t call that wasteful spending,” he said.

Salazar charged Tipton with calling for a 50 percent cut in federal non-military spending and questioned Tipton on how he could call for building additional water projects or providing tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting the budget that deeply.