Tipton wins another term in Western Slope congressional district

Former state Sen. Gail Schwartz, left, and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, right, competing for Third Congressional District seat (western slope).

UPDATE: former state Sen. Gail Schwartz conceded the Third Congressional District race at 10:45 Wednesday morning, telling The Colorado Independent she was about to contact Rep. Scott Tipton to congratulate him on his victory. “I’m at peace,” she said.

Republican Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez cruised to a win Tuesday night over his Democratic challenger, former state Sen. Gail Schwartz of Crested Butte.

And the decisive margin of victory could mean the seat is safe for Tipton for years to come.

Unofficial results show Tipton with a 14-point lead over Schwartz as of early Wednesday morning. She had yet to concede, stating she wanted to wait until ballots were counted in heavily Democratic Pueblo County. The county’s elections department ran into counting problems Tuesday night, based partly on a new voting system. It may not have final results until later Wednesday.

Colorado’s Third Congressional District, which extends across the Western Slope and along the state’s southeastern region to Pueblo, was one of the highest-dollar contests of the election season. A win by the Democrat could have helped Democrats mow down their 30-seat deficit in Congress. A win by the Republican helps Republicans maintain control of the U.S. House.

In a statement Tuesday night, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden congratulated Tipton on his win. “Scott has been a tireless advocate for rural Colorado families, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed by 3rd District voters during this election season.”

Tipton, a former small business owner, first won his seat in 2010, defeating then-U.S. Rep. John Salazar of Manassa by more than 10,000 votes. That has so far been the closest any Democrat has come to defeating Tipton since he got to Congress.

Schwartz, who has spent most of her life in public service, faced several other contenders in the Democratic Congressional District 3 convention in April, but emerged the winner.

Tipton’s primary focus has been been on the economy and jobs that are tied to the district’s energy industry. He also has sponsored legislation that some in the district believe would turn over Colorado’s federally-owned lands to the state for sale to the highest bidder, most likely oil and gas companies.

Schwartz’s focus is on employment, too, but it’s combined with an interest in protecting Colorado’s public lands and building up the outdoor recreation industry that she believes will help replace some of the jobs lost in mining.

Related: Schwartz v. Tipton – the battle for the Third Congressional District

In a West Slope debate, Tipton hammered Schwartz hard on the district’s energy industry and job woes, pointing to hundreds of high-paying jobs lost, particularly in the coal industry in the past several years. Tipton blames Schwartz for her support of increased renewable energy standards, which he said is responsible for some of those job losses.

Schwartz responded that Tipton has done nothing to help local residents transition to other jobs.

Tipton had voter registration, voter turnout, history, and most recently, money, on his side.

Related: Fundraising in Colorado’s hottest congressional races tops $8 million

Republicans outnumber Democrats in voter registration by more than 20,000. In the last campaign finance reports filed in mid-October, Tipton had taken a small lead over Schwartz in fundraising.

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.