Beinstein a longshot, but primaries can defy odds
History suggests incumbent Congressman Scott Tipton should have little trouble in his bid for renomination as the Republicans’ choice to represent Colorado’s sprawling 3rd District.
Yet these are historic times in American politics, some political observers are quick to point out, and nothing should be taken for granted.
Tipton, a Cortez Republican, had no problem getting re-elected twice after he unseated former U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a Democrat, during the tea party revolution of 2010.
This year, though, in addition to a likely showdown with former state Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Crested Butte, in the November general election, Tipton faces upstart political newcomer Alex Beinstein from Carbondale in the June 28 Republican primary.
It’s not the first time he’s faced a primary challenge. Tipton defeated David Cox in the 2014 Republican primary with 75 percent of the vote, before going on to win the general election over Democrat Abel Tapia.
But the mood is a little different this year.
“There’s so much uncertainty with the whole outsider constituency that has mobilized around the Trump campaign,” Scott Adler, a University of Colorado political science professor and director of the university’s American Politics Research Lab, said in reference to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“But there’s no way to know if those people are going to show up and make some noise in these primary races,” he said.
Tipton has largely ignored Beinstein, apparently confident that he has enough support within the district to win the nomination again.
That’s despite the fact that Beinstein managed to earn 40 percent of the delegates at the 3rd District GOP assembly in early April and make it onto the primary ballot.
Tipton’s campaign has not responded to numerous requests from the Post Independent for comment on the primary race. Tipton did tell the Durango Herald last month that, “we take every race seriously,” adding that the open Republican nominating process allows that “anybody can get into the race.”
The latest post on his campaign website takes direct aim at Schwartz for her vote in the state Senate to require electric utilities to purchase or generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, calling it a slap in the face of Colorado’s coal industry. There’s not even a mention of the upcoming primary.
Beinstein, for one, thinks that traditional incumbent approach could prove to be a miscalculation on the part of Tipton, especially in a district where 35 percent of the voters are unaffiliated.
Colorado’s election laws allow unaffiliated voters to declare a party affiliation up to and including primary day, so they can vote a primary ballot of their choosing. Democrats, who have few primary races on their local ballots within the 3rd District, and other party affiliates had until Tuesday to switch their affiliation.
“I feel like it liberates me to go out and spread my message,” Beinstein said of the lack of acknowledgement from Tipton’s camp. “That’s his decision, not mine. I have talked to people who support him, but who think he should be out campaigning and talking about the issues.”
Beinstein, who falls to the right on many issues but is more moderate on others, has challenged Tipton to debate him, but has not gotten any response.
SCHWARTZ READY TO DEBATE
Schwartz said she would be happy to debate either Tipton or Beinstein after the primary. She agrees there could some risk for the incumbent in looking past the primary, especially this election year.
“This is what people are objecting to,” Schwartz said. “They’re tired of business as usual in Washington, and I think Alex is on the right track asking for engagement and holding our elected officials accountable.”
If nominated, Beinstein has proposed a traveling series of debates with Schwartz across the district focused on solving the national debt and deficit, reasserting the U.S. House of Representatives’ role in foreign policy, and what he refers to as the “philosophy of compassionate constitutionalism.”
“In my judgment, you can most certainly be a conservative and have a heart,” Beinstein said. “In fact, they are supposed to go together.
“In short, we need programs like affordable housing, good schools for every kid, anti-poverty programs, etcetera, but all of this needs to be done at a local and state level,” he said.
Though he may be tapping into the same anti-establishment sentiment that driving the Trump train, Beinstein, who supported Ted Cruz for the GOP presidential nomination, hasn’t jumped on the Trump bandwagon. In fact he has even criticized Tipton for not denouncing the divisive billionaire candidate who looks to become the new face of the party.
Beinstein often points to the 2014 Republican primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District where David Brat upset then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as evidence that he could pull off a monumental upset himself.
TIPTON ISN’T CANTOR
That’s unlikely to play out in a low-profile primary race, by nationwide measures anyway, such as Colorado’s 3rd District, said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who is intimately familiar with the Cantor-Brat contest.
“There are a lot of reasons to question Beinstein’s ability to beat Tipton,” Kondik said. “Beinstein has almost no money and, unlike Dave Brat, he has not attracted much national attention in advance of the primary.”
Articles in Colorado newspapers from the Denver Post to the Durango Herald to the Post Independent, have been picked up by various websites that focus on political issues, including the Huffington Post.
But, unlike Cantor, who had risen to a leadership position and was being criticized for neglecting his duties back home as a result, the same can’t really be said for Tipton, Kondik said.
It is noteworthy, however, that Tipton only got 75 percent of the vote in the 2014 primary, he said.
“That’s still dominant, but many other incumbent congressmen are more dominant,” Kondik said. “The fact that Beinstein got 40 percent of the votes at the convention shows that he’s resonating with some plugged-in members of the district. But translating that to a primary, where there are many more voters and where Tipton is going to have many more resources and name identification, is a challenge, to say the least.”
With the exception of the Cantor loss, he also notes that nearly all House members who seek renomination, Republican or Democrat, get it.
“Tipton should be on guard,” Kondik said, “… but I think at this point one would have to say Tipton is a strong favorite for renomination despite a few signs of weakness.”
CU’s Adler agreed.
“Tipton is a leadership guy, and is constantly voting with leadership on some key issues that could make him a bit of a target for the tea party people,” Adler said. “But I think he’s done enough for the district in the way of protecting agricultural interests, so he hasn’t lost that big constituency.”
Then again, “This is a crazy year, so who knows.”
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