DENVER– Tisha Casida, a 30-year-old unaffiliated candidate in the 3rd Congressional District race, is something of an enigma – either sounding like a fearless commander battling the establishment or a victim of the government, big banks, Wall Street, political parties and the press.
“Neither party will have me because I refuse to conform to the party line,” said Casida at her campaign kickoff in May 2011. “We need representatives who don’t vote a party line – but vote for ‘We the People’.”
Casida reeled off her platform issues – positions primarily culled from her hero, Libertarian-leaning Republican presidential candidate Texas Rep. Ron Paul – in an interview with The Colorado Observer. But, asked basic candidate bio questions, she abruptly hung up.
“My heart hurts when I am attacked because I am young and because I had a marriage that did not turn out the way every girl dreams,” Casida complained to her Facebook fans about the interview in a blog titled, “Personal Attacks Vs. Policy Discussion.”
In reality, Casida was asked about policies and legislation.
Having described herself as a “military wife” whose husband suffered post traumatic stress disorder, Casida was asked if that experience shaped her view against sending troops to war and does she support expanding emotional health care services for veterans.
“No, I don’t support entitlement programs,” responded Casida.
Asked how long she has been married, Casida said that her memory blocked out the years. According to public records, Casida was married briefly to Craig Rerucha, and petitioned for divorce in July 2004.
Whether a warrior or whiner, Casida might be empowered to influence the outcome of the November election – taking enough votes from incumbent Republican Congressman Scott Tipton to deliver a victory to Democrat contender state Rep.Sal Pace.
“I am a threat to the establishment – a threat to both parties,” declared Casida.
Whether that is true or not will likely be decided at the Club 20 debate on Sept. 8 in Grand Junction. Casida will debate for the first time against Tipton and Pace, a contest that is so intense that some politicos call it, “the make or break” for any candidate.
She may be unknown and under-funded, but the political newcomer has made inroads in the “Tea Party” network that stretches from the Western Slope to Southern Colorado.
Casida is hailed as “smart” and “the last chance” to save Americaby some self-described “Tea Party” activists. They hope she wins, but if Pace snares the seat, some argue, it won’t make any difference from Tipton who, they say, has strayed from conservative values.
“Why do you think Tipton’s campaign is based in Pueblo? He’s wooing votes from Democrats,” said Tim Fenwick, a Mesa County Republican.
Because Tipton’s successful 2010 campaign was headquartered in GOP-vote-rich Grand Junction, some Republicans were surprised that his campaign this election season chose Pueblo– hometown of Pace and Casida.
“I’m an orphan of the American dream,” Casida told The Colorado Observer.
If so, perhaps she found a Daddy Warbucks in Bob McConnell, who lost his 2010 Republican congressional primary bid to Tipton. McConnell’s anger toward Tipton and the GOP establishment is well known.
“Bob McConnell is my mentor and my friend. I asked for his blessing and if he had wanted to run, I wouldn’t have,” said Casida.
According to Marjorie Haun, a contributor to Colorado Peak Politics, McConnell began fostering Casida’s candidacy at his Steamboat Springs home early last year. Like McConnell, Casida switched her Republican voter registration to unaffiliated and blasted Tipton on her website that was later scrubbed.
“If you want a Congressman with a long criminal record and love of higher taxes, vote Tisha Casida! Sal Pacewill thank you,” warned Colorado Peak Politics in February 2012. The website broke the story last year documenting Pace’s criminal record – including two separate charges for urinating in public.
Tipton’s campaign manager Michael Fortney refused our request for comment; however, several campaign insiders agreed to be interviewed, but requested anonymity.
“The unaffiliated and Libertarian candidates always win a few votes, but the number is insignificant,” said one source.
In the 2010 primary, Tipton won 39,346 votes compared to 31,214 votes for McConnell, who pitched himself as the “Tea Party” candidate. In the general election, Tipton beat Democrat Congressman John Salazar by little more than 10,000 votes, 131,227 to 121,114.
“Casida is just a name on the ballot,” said a Tipton campaign insider, who added that her campaign has so little money, it can’t afford to do a district mailing much less a radio-TV ad campaign.
According to the current Federal Elections Commission campaign reports, Tipton has $1.08 million cash on hand, Pace $789,099, Casida $7,699, write-in independent candidate Jaime McMillan $5,000 and Libertarian candidate Gregory Gillman did not file a report.
Casida has campaigned in the district’s 29 counties on a shoestring budget, but she’s snared thousands of dollars worth of free media coverage from websites such as Colorado Peak Politics and Info Wars to The New York Times.
But, she’s also shown a lack of knowledge about the legislative process and Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations.
Since July 2011, Casida’s campaign has raised nearly $26,310, at least 91 percent of the $200 or more contributions from men – beating the national average of 71 percent for congressional races.
Of the total raised, the campaign reimbursed $18,610 to Casida for unidentified expenses. The expenses were bundled on the report – another violation that requires information stating the category, purpose and receipts for expenditures.
The FEC requires a candidate to file candidacy papers when they announce or “refer to themselves as a candidate” or when an exploratory campaign raises or spends more than $5,000.
Regardless of which happens first, candidacy papers must be filed within 15 days, and the campaign committee registered 10 days later. Thereafter, financial reports are to be filed.
Casida announced her candidacy – not exploratory campaign – on May 13, 2011, an event documented by a media release and video tape on YouTube. Less than three months later, she promoted her campaign on a ‘We The People’ podcast and declared her campaign had raised just $2,000 and was not subject to FEC regulations that require candidacy papers.
No complaints were found against Casida or her campaign – a campaign that appears to have violated that FEC regulation in May 2011, and continued to do so until her candidacy statement was recorded Nov. 3, 2011.
The committee organization statement was received Nov. 18, 2011, and filed its first report of contributions and expenditures in March 2012.
Casida’s campaign bio information is vague, but The Colorado Observer did validate through public records that she has a current real estate license and earned an MBA from CU-Pueblo in 2009.
She listed her legal candidacy address as the home of her parents in Pueblo, but her campaign Facebook page states that she lives in Denver.
Asked for clarification, her volunteer campaign scheduler Steve Thompson said Casida lives in a Denver metro area “extended stay hotel” that’s near I-70, an easy access route to travel the district.
“That is not true,” declared Casida of Thompson’s clarification and her parents’ residence.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Tim Fenwick as a member of the Western Slope Conservative Alliance.