Joe Hanel/Durango Herald
PUEBLO – Western Colorado’s congressional candidates saved the fireworks for their fourth and possibly final debate.
A spirited crowd of 200 ignored the moderator’s pleas to hold their applause as Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Democratic challenger Sal Pace argued about the tone of the campaign and each other’s accomplishments.
Throughout the race, Pace has positioned himself as a bipartisan legislator who can help end fights in Washington, while Tipton has touted his own record in the U.S. House and painted Pace as tax-happy. Wednesday night was no exception.
Tipton ripped Pace for his votes in the Legislature that eliminated tax breaks and raised auto-registration fees.
“My opponent voted to increase your taxes, hurting rural Colorado the most,” Tipton said.
Pace nailed Tipton for running a “100 percent negative” campaign, with television ads that he said made his 5-year-old son, Wyatt, ask, “Dad, are you as bad as they said on TV?”
The most heated moment came when Tipton accused Pace of never holding a full-time private-sector job. Pace countered that he worked full-time as a waiter in Durango, something he has told Tipton before.
“Just like your ads, you like to distort the facts for political gain. Everyone in America is sick of this fighting and this partisanship,” Pace said.
Tipton pointed to his record of passing five bills through the House, including one to make it easier to install small hydroelectric projects. Each bill had bipartisan support.
“We need a legislator who can actually get bills through,” Tipton said.
But Pace said it’s not enough to pass a bill through the Republican-controlled House.
“What we need are people who can pass bills through the House and Senate and get them signed into law,” Pace said.
Pace also criticized Tipton for Congress’ failure to pass a farm bill before it expired and for not extending the wind-production tax credit, which has led to 90 job losses at the Vestas windmill plant in Pueblo.
Tipton said he is working with Colorado’s two Democratic senators to extend the wind tax credit, but he’s adamant that it not add to the national deficit.
Pace knocked Tipton for voting almost all the time with GOP leadership, but Tipton said the wind debate proves he doesn’t.
“My presidential candidate and I disagree on this,” Tipton said, referring to Mitt Romney’s opposition to the tax credit.
The two also fielded a question about President Barack Obama’s order not to deport illegal immigrant students who crossed the border with their parents.
Pace said the order makes sense, but the country has a broken immigration system.
Tipton said he sympathizes with the young immigrants, but the country needs to seal its borders before it makes any other immigration changes.
“Once we secure those borders, we will deal with this with the good hearts of Americans, as we always have,” Tipton said.
It was the only debate in the campaign that excluded unaffiliated candidate Tisha Casida.
The race is getting renewed attention in its final month. Hours before the debate, Tipton announced that Speaker of the House John Boehner would hold a fundraiser for him Oct. 21 in Durango. Tickets for the event at the Glacier Club range from $250 to $2,500.