GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) – A crowd gathers outside the suburban Denver campaign office of Republican Rep. Mike Coffman. They’re waving signs with Coffman’s name crossed out, urging passing motorists to vote against the two-term incumbent.
But they’re not here for Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi. Miklosi’s campaign knows nothing about the protest, and some protesters don’t know who Miklosi is. This is the work of a California-based political action group targeting House Republicans considered ripe for defeat.
“We’re here to hold extreme tea party representatives accountable,” said Jeff Gang of the San Francisco-based CREDO SuperPAC.
The race in this district just south and east of Denver at times has little to do with the candidates. Outside interest groups routinely scan the country for close contests where their side can make gains, and many have their sights on Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.
The Coffman-Miklosi race had attracted nearly $3.5 million in outside spending by mid-October, according to the campaign finance tracker Sunlight Foundation. That figure dwarfs every other congressional contest in Colorado and is greater than the amount either candidate has raised on his own.
National labor unions, business organizations and interest groups have poured money into the race. The major parties themselves each have spent about $1 million or more each.
Coffman rolled up big margins against nominal Democratic opposition in 2010 and 2008. But the district was redrawn after the latest census, turning it from a GOP stronghold to a competitive battleground. The new lines instantly made Miklosi, a little-known Democrat representing Denver in the state Legislature, his party’s best hope for knocking off a Republican incumbent in Colorado.
Add a couple of missteps by Coffman – especially a May statement to GOP donors questioning the citizenship of President Barack Obama – and the race became a flashpoint for left-leaning activists.
Some of them acknowledge they’re more interested in defeating Coffman than electing Miklosi.
“I’ve heard of Joe Miklosi, but I don’t know much about him,” said Tom Longley, a 66-year-old Aurora veteran who recently joined other vets for a separate Coffman protest outside an Aurora veterans facility. “I just think we can do better than Mike Coffman.”
Also helping Miklosi is the Fair Share Alliance, a left-leaning activist group with chapters in several battleground states. The Colorado chapter set up shop in Aurora. Its members have poked fun at Coffman and their claim he’s nearly invisible to his constituents by posting “Where’s Mike?” videos online shot outside his campaign offices and a golf course near his house.
Coffman, in turn, is getting help from anti-abortion groups, gun rights groups and the FreedomWorks political committee, a conservative group that has spent nearly $10 million in dozens of House and Senate races this year.
All the outside attention is a blessing and a curse for the candidates. They’re able to raise much more money and attract more media and party attention than they would without it. But they also can be overwhelmed by messages they didn’t send.
“What it does is, at the end of the day, the candidate is not in control of their own campaign,” said Coffman, who opposes campaign finance laws barring coordination between candidates and outside interest groups.
Negative ads, for example, tend to infuriate voters, who blame the political candidates who would otherwise benefit from them. Often, the candidates don’t see the ads before the voters do.
Miklosi is more circumspect about the national interest in his race. He’s well aware that he wouldn’t be attracting so much attention without new district lines and an opponent seen as vulnerable.
“Folks don’t like the tea party, and I’m getting national support from people in $25 checks from all over the country,” Miklosi said.
One longtime activist in the 6th District, Centennial Democrat John Bailey, said he’s thrilled by the outside attention. He worked unsuccessfully against Coffman in the past.
“I do believe (Coffman) could go down,” said Bailey. “Redistricting has changed everything.”
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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