Pace seeks votes in San Luis Valley

On the agenda: Tout bipartisanship, John Salazar ties

Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace shakes hands with store clerk Margot Alexander at Cowboy Up, a western wear store in Monte Vista, on Thursday. Pace campaigning through the San Luis Valley, and he often tries to visit local businesses. Pace’s friend from Fort Lewis College, Jed Ellithorpe, right, introduced him to people around town. Enlarge photo

Joe Hanel/Durango Herald

Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace shakes hands with store clerk Margot Alexander at Cowboy Up, a western wear store in Monte Vista, on Thursday. Pace campaigning through the San Luis Valley, and he often tries to visit local businesses. Pace’s friend from Fort Lewis College, Jed Ellithorpe, right, introduced him to people around town.

MONTE VISTA – In a political campaign in the San Luis Valley, it can’t hurt to drop John Salazar’s name.

Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace used to work for Salazar, who lost his congressional seat to Cortez Republican Scott Tipton in 2010. Pace wants to wrest the seat back from Tipton this fall, and he knows the Salazar name carries weight in the San Luis Valley, where the family settled before Colorado became a state.

On a campaign swing through Monte Vista on Thursday, Pace stopped in at Final Touch Auto Detailing. When Pace told the shop’s owner, Gabe Duran, that he’s running for Congress, he was met by a brief blank stare.

“This is the old John Salazar seat,” Pace said, causing Duran’s face to brighten.

“You’ve got my vote,” he said.

Not every interaction is that easy for the aspiring congressman.

At the Monte Vista Co-op, Pace met Miguel Diaz, a farmer who wore a white cowboy hat and a pair of pliers in a sheath on his belt.

“You want to beat Scott Tipton?” Diaz said. “You know, Scott’s done some pretty good work for us.”

Pace smiled.

“Well, I’ll do better, and I’m going to work in a bipartisan fashion,” he said.

After a five-minute talk, Pace gave Diaz his cellphone number, and Diaz said he was glad Pace is in the race.

The bipartisan message is usually at the top of Pace’s pitch to voters as he makes the rounds in this 54,000-square mile district. One-on-one campaigning is tough in one of the country’s largest districts, but Pace usually tries to stop at local businesses whenever he is on the road – especially at auto shops. His dad and five older brothers are all mechanics.

“It’s a business I grew up in and understand,” Pace said.

At Cowboy Up, a new western wear store in downtown Monte Vista, Pace introduced himself to Margot Alexander, the shop clerk.

“Why are you running?” Alexander asked.

“Well,” Pace said, “I’m running to stop the partisanship and work together for the good of the country.”

Alexander seemed pleased.

“Really! What a concept,” said Alexander, who said she’s an independent voter.

Republicans hold a 100,000-voter advantage in the district, so if Pace hopes to win, he’ll have to hope Alexander’s reaction is shared by other unaffiliated voters, who make up 30 percent of the district.

Tipton will be meeting voters this Saturday with town hall forums in Westcliffe and Pueblo.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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