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And then there were two.
Grand Junction City Councilor Chris Kennedy, a former U.S. Marine and telecom worker, dropped out of the Democratic primary race to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton Wednesday, citing the health issues of his mother.
That leaves Glenwood Springs municipal and water attorney Karl Hanlon, a Carbondale rancher who just jumped into the race last week, and former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a former Routt County commissioner from Steamboat Springs.
Kennedy, considered a strong candidate in the sprawling district’s second largest – and by far most conservative – city, posted his decision on Facebook Wednesday:
“Today I announced my withdrawal from the race for CD3. Family health issues that will require my time and attention over the next days and months make this necessary at this time. To all those who have supported me during this process I am humbled by your generosity and selflessness and friendship. I could not in good conscious continue this campaign knowing that I would not be able to devote 100% of my time and energy over the days and months ahead.
“You deserve no less than that from your next representative in Congress. To the thousands we have met over the course of this campaign know that your voices are heard, and I will continue to advocate for your issues and concerns. The fight is not over. We will prevail.”
Mitsch Bush, who jumped into the race last spring and recently resigned her state house seat, offered her best wishes to Kennedy.
“I am sorry to hear about Chris Kennedy’s mother’s serious health issues,” Mitsch Bush told RealVail.com. “I wish him and his family the very best.”
Mitsch Bush also said she’s reached out to Hanlon to wish him well in the primary race.
“On Saturday, I called Karl to welcome him into the race for CD3. We had a nice talk,” Mitsch Bush said. “We agreed that we both look forward to good, civil discussions and debates that inform our voters in CD3.”
Hanlon, too, had good thoughts for Kennedy.
“I appreciate that Chris was in the race and had a lot of great ideas,” Hanlon told RealVail.com. “I talked to him last week, and I knew that he was facing some family issues that might impact his ability to stay in the race, so I wish him the best on those issues because I know those are tough.”
He added he thinks it will be a tough but fair primary taking on Mitsch Bush.
“My hope is that we don’t [beat each other up too much] and that we can really stick to the issues and focus on who can really win the district back,” Hanlon said. “That’s going to be the conversation with the voters. The goal is to get the right person in the seat, and that’s going to have to be the conversation at both the primary and general election level.”
No Democrat has held the Third Congressional District since three-term, blue-dog moderate rancher John Salazar, who was taken out by Tipton in the tea party wave of 2010. Tipton’s last three Democratic challengers in the majority GOP district, which includes most of the Western Slope and a swatch of southern Colorado around Pueblo, lost by 20, 12 and 14 points.
But both Mitsch Bush and Hanlon think Tipton is vulnerable after voting in favor of unpopular House versions of both healthcare and tax reform.
“R leaders tax giveaway to wealthiest creates deficit. Then pay 4 by cutting Medicaid, Medicare & Social Security. @RepTipton : vote no!” Mitsch Bush tweeted Thursday as the House works to conference and pass a new tax bill that conforms to the recently passed – and very different — Senate version. She was referring to Speaker Paul Ryan’s call for entitlement reform in 2018.
Hanlon blasted the House tax bill on two key points for CD3.
“If you look at the House version of the bill, it eliminated the renewable energy credit, which has a direct negative impact on Pueblo [for wind energy manufacturing],” Hanlon said. “His votes on that same tax plan really have a negative impact on agriculture, eliminating carried back losses, making it easy to deduct an old tractor but not a new one.
“So small farmers and ranchers that are always going to be buying used equipment, that change directly affects them.”
Tipton campaign manager Michael Fortney didn’t want to weigh in just yet on the Democrats lining up to challenge Tipton, or their specific barbs about the congressman’s record.
“We officially decline to comment and were nonplussed by all of these developments,” Fortney told RealVail.com.