Smith, Walcher in dead heat in race for House |

Smith, Walcher in dead heat in race for House

The Associated Press

DENVER – Former natural resources chief Greg Walcher and state Rep. Matt Smith were in a virtual dead heat Tuesday after the five-way Republican primary to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Scott McInnis.With all precincts reporting, Walcher had 15,381 votes, or 32 percent. Smith, McInnis’ brother-in-law, had 15,106 votes, or 31 percent.Walcher celebrated victory even though Smith hadn’t conceded. He said the difference in votes was large enough that he felt comfortable with the results.”We scored a very rewarding victory tonight, even though the numbers were small,” Walcher said. “The victory feels just as good.”The final tally from the 29 counties in the nation’s seventh-largest district apparently includes all absentee and early votes, but some provisional votes remained uncounted. Those ballots – cast when a voter’s eligibility is in question at the polling place – are by state law counted in the days following the election.”It’s too close to call,” Smith said. “We didn’t expect it to be this close, but we’re just going to wait for the last of these to come in.”The winner will face state Rep. John Salazar, a fifth-generation farmer from southern Colorado and the only Democrat in the race.The rest of the GOP field lagged far behind: state Rep. Gregg Rippy had 7,903 votes, or 16 percent; Pueblo County Sheriff Dan Corsentino had 5,569 votes, or 12 percent; and entrepreneur Matt Aljanich had 4,362 votes, or 9 percent.Long a Republican stronghold, the district became a tossup after McInnis announced last fall he would not seek a seventh term. Democrats would like to capture the seat for the first time since 1990 to boost their numbers in the House, an uphill battle considering the Republicans’ 229-205 advantage.In the state’s other congressional primaries, Stephen Hackman and Michael Kennedy were in a close race for the GOP nomination to face Democratic Rep. Mark Udall in the 2nd District.GOP Reps. Marilyn Musgrave and Joel Hefley easily defeated primary challengers Bob Faust and Mike Payton, respectively. Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Republican Reps. Bob Beauprez and Tom Tancredo faced no primary opponents.”To have a huge victory tonight is very gratifying,” Musgrave said from a gathering in Greeley.She said she would “hit the ground running” Wednesday to start her general election campaign against former state Sen. Stan Matsunaka, a Democrat she defeated by a large margin to win her first term in 2002.In the 3rd District, Republicans spent weeks traveling from the towering peaks in and around Glenwood Springs and Aspen to Pueblo and the plateaus of northwestern Colorado seeking votes. The district, roughly the size of Florida, covers nearly half the state’s 64 counties and has 600,000 residents (21.5 percent are Hispanic), though only 285,000 are registered to vote.The GOP holds an edge of just 5,000 registered voters after a redistricting legal battle won by Democrats.Walcher stressed his experience as the state’s natural resources director and defended his record on water issues after supporting an unsuccessful ballot proposal that western Coloradans feared would divert more of their water to the rapidly growing Front Range. He called the economy the cornerstone of his campaign and said cutting federal taxes and regulations will help small businesses and family farms prosper.Smith opposed the 2003 water proposal and criticized Walcher for supporting it. Western Colorado, home to several major Western river basins, depends on water for its economic health, he said.

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