Tipton defeats Mitsch Bush in 3rd Congressional District race

Tom Ross

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the final vote count.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The bid by Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush to unseat Republican Congressman Scott Tipton in Colorado’s giant 3rd Congressional District didn’t catch the blue wave on election night.

But Mitsch Bush, the former state legislator from Steamboat Springs, may have been caught in a riptide.

Tipton won 52 percent of the vote to win back his seat. Mitsch Bush finished strong in Routt County, beating Tipton two-to-one, collecting 8,304 votes locally to the incumbent’s 4,581 votes.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton R-Cortez

Mitsch Bush’s campaign manager, Steamboat Springs City Councilwoman Sonja Macys, signaled early in the campaign that a blue wave wouldn’t be enough to carry her candidate over the finish line.

“Even if the blue wave hit us, there’s not enough blue in our district to make the wave meaningful,” Macys told the Denver Post in September. “Diane needs a purple wave to win.”

But changing voting patterns in Pueblo County, the largest metro area in the congressional district that spans virtually the entire Western Slope of Colorado, may have also complicated Mitsch Bush’s path to a win this election cycle. 

Pueblo County, with a population of 95,860, is one of the keys to winning the district. Routt, Pitkin and Moffat and a portion of Eagle are among the district’s 28 counties.

Long a bastion of labor union Democrats, Pueblo County has long been considered essential to Democrats in the 3rd Congressional District, with a landmass the size of the state of New York. 

But in 2018, Pueblo County is one of 206 counties nationally being described by political analysts as pivot counties. Voters there helped to elect former President Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. In 2016, they “pivoted” and voted for Donald Trump. 

Yes, it was Hillary Clinton who won Colorado in 2016, but it was Trump who became the first Republican to win the presidential vote in Pueblo County since Richard M. Nixon pulled it off in 1972.

The Colorado Springs Gazette theorized in February 2017 that Trump’s promises to halt the exodus of manufacturing jobs from the United States and create new jobs by devoting billions in federal monies to infrastructure projects across the county played well in Pueblo.

Voters in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District have elected three Republicans and three Democrats since 1980. And for at least the next two years Republican Scott Tipton will continue to occupy the seat. 

Looking back at a long campaign, Mitsch Bush said her interactions with voters in one of the geographically largest congressional districts was rewarding.

“The thing that has struck me the most, is how people say people in America don’t care anymore … it’s hate and negativity,” Mitsch Bush said. “I’ve found just the opposite from meeting people in all 29 counties.

“People everywhere in our district work very hard, not just for their families, and they are looking to the future,” Mitsch Bush said. “That’s one of the most wonderful things about this campaign.”

Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in June after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.

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