Former state Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village declared yesterday she plans to challenge U.S Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez for the 3rd Congressional District seat.
She’s the second Democrat to enter the race. And Party brass say she has a good shot at beating her Republican rival — an idea some in the GOP find laughable. The district is a conservative stronghold, where Republicans have roughly 12,000 more voters than Dems.
The other Democrat in the race, veterinarian Steve Sheldon of Gypsum, has pledged to serve just three terms in Congress and has no signs of Party support.
Schwartz served two terms in the state Senate, representing a district where the largest bloc of voters are registered independent, followed by Republicans and then Democrats.
Her big advantage in the 3rd Congressional District: She’s won there before.
Schwartz represented the University of Colorado Board of Regents from 2000 to 2006, defeating incumbent Republican Hank Anton of Pueblo.
Results from a regents’ race, which tend to draw little attention, are not a foolproof sign of what will happen in 2016. The 2000 election results also show more than 44,000 participating voters didn’t weigh in on the race.
Congressional District 3 has grown, geographically, since that 2000 race and became slightly more Democratic when congressional maps were redrawn in 2011.
Republicans hold a 27 percent point advantage over Democrats, according to Ballotpedia.
Tipton handily defeated his 2014 Democratic challenger, former state Sen. Abel Tapia of Pueblo, by more than 20 percent.
“I know we can bring this same commonsense leadership to a broken Congress,” she said.
Schwartz also pledged to work on “investments in rural infrastructure including broadband, the protection of our natural resources and way of life, and to keep Americans safe.”
Schwartz won an immediate endorsement from former Secretary of the Interior and U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, who said “Gail’s work in the San Luis Valley and for our rural communities has been transformative; she has worked to build new schools, protect our seniors, and take care of our veterans. Results matter and Gail has delivered.”
Republicans are likely to pounce on Schwartz’s record on several issues, also from the 2013 session, including her votes in favor of two gun control measures.
Republicans quickly claimed the 3rd Congressional District race is not a priority for national Democrats.
Zach Hunter, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, pointed out that Schwartz is listed in the “lowest rung” of the Red to Blue program of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“National Democrats already gave up on CD-03 before their candidate even announced,” Hunter said. “If national Democrats are already relegating Schwartz to the back bench, then they aren’t even pretending that this race will be competitive in the fall.”
But Democrats say the opposite is more likely true. Schwartz is one of only 30 Democratic congressional candidates championed by the Red to Blue program. Red to Blue candidates top the list of those selected to defeat incumbent Republicans.
Schwartz is among 14 Democratic contenders in the DCCC’s second tier Emerging Races list.
There are two lists: Red to Blue, a list of 17 candidates that includes state Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora. The other is the Emerging Races list, a second tier of candidates championed by national Democrats. Schwartz was placed on that list of 14 when she announced her run.
The Cook Political Report, which monitors national political races, viewed Schwartz’s entry into the contest as one of two “high points” for Democratic congressional candidate recruitment this week.
Both Democrats will face off in the 3rd Congressional District assembly on Friday, April 15 in Loveland. Both could appear on the ballot if they win at least 30 percent of the delegates from the assembly.
Correction: This story originally said Sheldon pledged to serve one term in Congress. He pledged three.