Colorado turned a deeper shade of blue in Tuesday’s election, but the west is still red.
Although President Barack Obama won a solid victory in Colorado, he lost on the Western Slope.
And Western Colorado voters handed a second term in Congress to Cortez Republican Scott Tipton, who did even better than Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
In 2008, Obama lost the counties in Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District by about 2 percentage points. As of Wednesday afternoon, he was down 53 percent to 45 percent against Romney.
Tipton’s Democratic challenger, Sal Pace, was losing by an even wider margin, 55 percent to 40 percent. However, about half the votes in Pace’s home county, Pueblo, still were not reported Wednesday afternoon.
La Plata County proved an exception to the Western Slope pattern. Pace defeated Tipton 13,609 to 12,663.
Even when Pueblo is fully counted, though, Obama was on track to lose by about 7 points and Pace by more than 10.
Tipton credited his campaign volunteers and his congressional office staff.
“We were trying to make sure we were reaching out into the district. We’ve had a great staff operation,” he said.
He did especially well in his home county, Montezuma, where he beat Pace 7,527 votes to 3,968 votes.
Mesa County, the GOP’s stronghold in Western Colorado, gave Tipton 45,087 votes – more than 26,000 better than his opponent, according to unofficial results Wednesday afternoon.
Tipton won his seat in 2010 by less than 4 points, and he owes his expanded margin this year to a curious mix of Romney and Obama voters.
Romney proved to be a much stronger candidate at the top of the GOP ballot than John McCain in 2008. But Tipton also scored a bigger victory than Romney, meaning that at least a few thousand of Tipton’s votes came from Obama supporters.
Ticket-splitting voters often show up in Colorado politics, said Floyd Ciruli, a longtime pollster in the state.
“Unaffiliated voters are especially prone to ticket-splitting, as are conflicted partisans like conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans,” Ciruli said.
Also, at least 8,600 Western Slope residents cast a vote for president but did not vote in the congressional race, according to unofficial figures from the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday afternoon.
But the big story of the race is found at the top of the ticket. Congressional races have become “nationalized,” Ciruli said, and local politics and characters don’t matter as much anymore.
Earlier this year, Ciruli thought the Tipton-Pace matchup would be the closest in the state, but he surmised that Pace was losing when the Democrat didn’t get much help from his Washington allies.
“The general rule is, if you’re not getting national attention or you’re not a local celebrity, you’re in trouble,” Ciruli said.
Most of Tipton’s fellow House Republicans also won their races Tuesday night. Democrats tightened their grip on the Senate.
“We are effectively where we were the day before the election,” Tipton said.
Tipton said although Congress was stalled for most of the last two years, it was able to function enough to pass an important transportation bill.
“We were able to achieve something and get the process working. That’s what people are expecting,” he said.
If there is any new spirit of cooperation in Washington, it will be put to the test when Congress returns in a week to take up some major questions on taxation and spending. Unless Congress acts soon, taxes will rise and spending will be cut automatically.
Obama campaigned on raising tax rates for people who make more than $250,000, while Romney had shut the door on any new taxes.
Tipton said he hopes Republicans can convince Obama that his $250,000 cutoff could hurt small businesses, but he also left the door open to the government collecting new revenue to pay down the debt.
He thinks Congress and Obama have a powerful incentive to work together.
“If we just say we aren’t going to do anything, it reverts back to a decade-old tax code, and a lot of people are going to get hit and hurt,” Tipton said.