With only about 460 days left until the 2012 general election, the race for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District is well underway. Former Democratic State House Minority Leader Sal Pace announced his candidacy to challenge Republican incumbent Scott Tipton on May 31st, an announcement that had already been rendered old news when Steny Hoyer apparently let his excitement get the better of him, and leaked the information some time earlier.

So far, Pace is the only Democrat to enter the fray. Dr. Perry Haney, a Democrat and Greenwood Village chiropractor, is intent on running for Congress somewhere in Colorado, but isn’t quite sure where yet. His Haney For Congress webpage says he is waiting so see how the redistricting maps turn out, though he does mention Tipton rather obsessively in his Facebook rants, has bought a UPS box in Grand Junction to establish roots, and has traipsed over the hills and vales of the 3rd CD as though he were serious. Until he becomes so…

There was much talk earlier in the year regarding a possible bid from State Senator Gail Schwartz. But Schwartz’s lock-step support for the Democrats redistricting map that split the western slope in two, placing such communities as Grand Junction with (of all places) Boulder, may have effectively assassinated that plan. Besides, unlike the state’s Republicans, Colorado Democrats probably do not feel the need to emasculate themselves with a bruising primary. That leaves, for the moment at least, Sal Pace.

Accordingly, Pace and the Democrats wasted no time in commencing a bare fisted offensive against Tipton, adumbrating the tone of the election to come. Dutifully following the party edict, and leaving the facts scattered in his tire tracks, Pace went on the road with a mission to terrify the elderly by attempting to portray Tipton as somehow being against Medicare and apple pie, owing to his support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Recall, if you will, the “tossing Grandma off the cliff” ads; as Pace would tell it, it was Tipton personally providing the ultimate nudge – when in fact, not only is Tipton’s support of the Ryan budget keeping grandma at a safe distance from the cliff, but it is tethering her grandchildren against being mercilessly pushed towards the edge by the Democrats status quo approach to entitlements.
All this was abruptly followed by an entirely coincidental airing of radio ads by the Democrat’s optimistically named House Majority PAC which echoed the same sentiments, along with a jab in line with the left’s other attempt to put a crippling blot on Tipton’s escutcheon.

The PAC ad suggests, with a presumably straight face, that the Congressman used undue influence to hire his nephew to do official work for his office. The accusation requires a few mental calisthenics to make the connection; the office of Tipton’s Democrat predecessor, John Salazar, had hired a firm to handle tele-town halls. Tipton’s office simply retained them while changing the nameplates on the desks. This firm subcontracted out some of the work and technological details. One of the sub-contractors was a company for which Tipton’s nephew happened to work. Not exactly a story torn from the script of The Tudors.

For his part, Scott Tipton’s performance in Congress has been stellar – a naturally gifted orator, he has presented eloquent and principled floor speeches. His voting record reflects the staunch conservatism which propelled him to Washington. His defense of his policy positions on cable news and other media outlets demonstrates an intelligence, depth, and reasoning that suggest that those positions are the result of more than a simple application of a cookie cutter ideological template. And he has done a magnificent job as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy, and Trade, an assignment that I predict will prove even more crucial in the coming year.

For all that, there remains, a perception at least, that Tipton suffers from something of a communication problem. An often heard complaint is that little word of the good he has accomplished has filtered its way down to the rank and file of the 3rd CD, nor has any parry, let alone counter thrust, against his malfactors been heard. Popular political culture is likely, in part, to blame. A public that has over the last few years grown steadily accustomed to an interminable barrage of information, from talk radio stations, 24-hour cable news, the internet, and, increasingly, from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, perceives any communications deficit, no matter how temporary, situational, or strategic, as nothing less than deafening silence.

There is, on the other hand, something to be said for a strategy of reservation at this still-early stage. Pace seems intent on playing the hare, so let him. Tipton is wise to keep his money in the bank until needed. But he should still be careful of allowing Pace to set the narrative early on.

There is a balance to be struck. Each unreturned blow that Pace lands is, on some level, a victory. Tipton, as noted above, is a bit of a natural, and therefore can, and should, turn each rhetorical bullet into a ricochet. He should not be spending much cash at this point, but rather should be raising some by marketing himself and his ideas, flooding the internet, Facebook, e-mail boxes, and whatever free media he can, with his reasoned, common sense, conservative message, and displays of his application of it. He does this not just with the usual prepared statements and talking points, but by being, well, Scott Tipton. The Congressman is one of that rare breed of the species who can be turned loose, and trusted to communicate as he did during the campaign, without self-immolating himself politically.

Tipton knows how to do this. And he only has 66 more weeks in which to prove it.