The candidates are off and running.
This weekend marks the unofficial start of the race for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District seat, following the Federal Elections Commission release of campaign finance reports the candidates filed on Jan. 31.
Greg Walcher, former Colorado Department of Natural Resources director, has emerged from the large pack of Republican candidates as the top fund-raiser. His campaign has collected $112,554 so far. That's nearly $50,000 more than any other Republican or Democrat party candidate. Pueblo County Sheriff Dan Corsentino, a Republican, has raised $69,171, and state Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, leads the Democrats in fund-raising with $62,845. All candidates who raised more than $5,000 are required to register with the FEC.
Primary elections will be held in Colorado on Aug. 10. The 3rd Congressional District is one of the largest districts in the country, encompassing 29 counties in a landmass larger than the state of Florida.
A flood of Republicans and Democrats have announced their candidacies since Rep. Scott McInnis announced last September that he would not seek a seventh term in Congress. After the Colorado courts rejected a Republican redistricting plan at the end of the 2003 legislative session, the race could be one of the most hotly contested in the nation.
Five Republicans and two Democrats filed campaign contribution reports with the FEC, but half a dozen other candidates have announced their intentions to run. Campaign contributions traditionally function as an early indicator of which candidates have garnered the most support. That gives Walcher an early advantage in the race.
Walcher left the state department of natural resources in early January to run for Congress. Walcher was appointed department director in 1999 and as such oversaw 15 state boards and more than 2,5000 workers. His campaign received an early boost when Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell promised Walcher his vote.
Corsentino assumed office as Pueblo County Sheriff in 1990 and was re-elected to four consecutive terms. The sheriff holds a master's degree in public administration and a bachelor's degree in political science, both from Colorado State University.
State Rep. Greg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, has raised $54,300 to fund his campaign so far. Rippy has served two terms in the Colorado House. He is a Colorado State University graduate the president and co-owner of Grand River Construction, a Western Slope paving company.
Doug Sitter, an attorney from Durango, has raised $44,075 in his first run for public office. On his Web site, Sitter describes himself as a conservative Republican who favors instituting a flat tax to increase the economic growth he says President Bush's tax cuts have sparked. Sitter supports the war on terror and the war in Iraq.
State Rep. Matt Smith, R-Grand Junction, is McInnis' brother-in-law. He's far behind the pack in fund-raising, having collected $29,075.
Ken Chlouber, a former state senator and Army veteran from Leadville, Jerry Eller, a telecommunications specialist, and Delina DiSanto, owner of DiSanto Homes and Development in Durango, have all announced their intentions to run but have not filed with the FEC.
DiSanto, the only woman in the race, has worked on campaigns for Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Sens. Wayne Allard and Campbell. She has worked as financial officer for oil and gas companies and hospitals. She cited small business needs and the economy, health care issues, and water rights as her three major campaign priorities.
Salazar leads the Democrats in fund-raising, and probably in name recognition, too. The potato farmer from the San Luis Valley is the brother of Attorney General Ken Salazar. During a visit to Craig, he cited health care and improving the economy as the two most pressing needs.
Air Force veteran Anthony Martinez is a frequent political candidate. The Air Force Academy graduate and San Luis Valley native has lost two bids for Colorado Secretary of State before this latest bid for public office. So far, Martinez has raised $21,325.
During a phone interview, Martinez said his Air Force background and relations with Pentagon officials qualify him as the only candidate with a background in national security.
Also running for the Democratic nomination is Randy Fricke, a former congressional lobbyist for ethanol production. Fricke intends to promote the renewable and alternative energy industry during his campaign, and opposes the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Fricke holds a master's degree in education and lives in Roaring Fork.
Jim Fritz of Mesa and Jim Spehar, the mayor of Grand Junction, round out the Democratic candidates.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.