Democratic state Rep. Donald Valdez on Saturday will announce his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, a move that will force a Democratic primary in a race getting early national attention.
Valdez is hosting a series of town-hall meetings in southern Colorado on that day and in an email he told supporters he will use the events to declare his candidacy.
Valdez confirmed Thursday morning to The Colorado Sun that he is launching a campaign to represent the district that stretches from Pueblo in the east and covers most of the Western Slope, including Durango, Grand Junction and Steamboat Springs.
The La Jara lawmaker’s decision will pit him against former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, of Steamboat Springs, in the Democratic primary. She announced her candidacy in late May.
Mitsch Bush ran in 2018 and lost to Tipton, of Cortez, by 8 percentage points. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is eyeing the seat as a potential target in the 2020 election, and putting pressure on Tipton. The group has already begun running ads attacking him.
So far, neither Mitsch Bush or Valdez has a track record to emerge as a top-tier rival. But other Democrats are still looking at the race. Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, is a third potential contender.
“I have had conversations,” Garcia told The Sun earlier this week, declining to say who he’s talked to about the race. “There have been conversations.”
Valdez said in an interview with The Colorado Sun on Thursday morning that he plans to continue to focus on rural issues and infrastructure as he launches his campaign.
“I see a need for education now more than anything,” he said. “I see a need for fighting for water, to make sure it stays within our communities in southern Colorado.”
First elected to the state House in 2016 and reelected in 2018, he has focused on rural issues, including water and agriculture, during his time at the Colorado Capitol.
But Valdez has also been a controversial figure within his own party at times, clashing with fellow Democrats. A year ago, in a speech on the House floor, he accused Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, of harassment and bullying.
In the 2019 session, he voted against 14 of the 460 bills Democratic-led chamber brought to a vote, according to a Colorado Sun analysis, which ranked him second most likely to buck his own party.
Some of those votes went against his party’s priority measures.
Valdez voted against the so-called red flag gun bill, which allows judges to order the seizure of firearms from people who are a significant risk to themselves or others. He also rejected legislation signing Colorado onto the national popular vote compact, which would mandate the state’s presidential electors vote for whomever wins the most votes across the nation and not necessarily the candidate who wins the state.
And Valdez voted against Senate Bill 181, Democrats’ omnibus oil and gas regulation measure.
When asked about those votes on Thursday, Valdez said: “I represent the people in my district.”
Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.