AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Republican Rep. Mike Coffman has kept a firm grip on his Colorado seat for a decade, even as his suburban Denver district shifted steadily leftward. But he’s fighting for political survival in Tuesday’s election.
The five-term incumbent faces an aggressive and well-funded challenge from Democrat Jason Crow, an attorney and first-time candidate. Crow branded Coffman as an enabler of President Donald Trump and attacked him on health care and gun violence — a sensitive issue in a district where a gunman opened fire on a crowded movie theater in 2012, killing 12 people.
Both candidates are veterans, always a bonus in Colorado, with its strong military presence. But Crow had a decided fundraising advantage, especially after national Republican donors pulled out of Coffman’s campaign to focus on races where they saw a better chance of winning. The contest will help determine whether Democrats pick up the 23 seats they need to take control of the U.S. House.
Trump is unpopular in Colorado’s urban congressional districts, and Coffman has labored to distance himself from the president, especially on immigration issues. About 20 percent of the residents in Coffman’s 6th Congressional District, which covers Denver’s eastern and southern suburbs, were born in another country.
When Trump said last week that he would revoke birthright citizenship for children born to people in the U.S. illegally, Coffman tweeted: “I hate to break the news to President Trump, but the Supreme Court isn’t going to let him rewrite immigration law by executive fiat, nor should they.”
But Democrats’ relentless depictions of Coffman as a Trump supporter — or an ineffective curb on the president — have dragged down Coffman, said Kyle Saunders, a political science professor at Colorado State University.
“He was successfully tied to Trump early on through various ad campaigns, whether by Crow as a candidate or by outside spending groups, and he never really recovered,” Saunders said.
Coffman, an Army and Marine veteran who served in both Iraq wars, was first elected in 2008, when his district was comfortably Republican. But its politics shifted before the 2012 election, and Republicans now make up just 30 percent of registered voters, compared with 32 percent who are Democrats and 36 percent unaffiliated.
Still, Coffman kept winning. He got re-elected by 8 percentage points in 2016, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the district by 9 percentage points.
As the district changed, Coffman did, too. He once supported legislation calling for English-only ballots. Later, he learned Spanish — even debating in Spanish — and cultivated close ties with Ethiopian, Hindu and Salvadoran communities, frequently attending services and festivals.
Crow, a former Army Ranger, distinguished himself from Coffman on health care and gun control — issues dear to constituents.
Coffman opposed former President Barack Obama’s health care law but, like many Republicans, says he wants to keep its popular guarantee of coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Crow defended Obama’s health law as a first step toward his goal of universal health care. He called for a federal public insurance option to foster competition among insurers and lower rates.
The Democrat also blasted the incumbent for taking more National Rifle Association contributions than any other member of Colorado’s House delegation.
The campaign money favors Crow, who has raised $5.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Coffman raised $3.4 million.
In an ominous sign for Coffman’s chances, a political group affiliated with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew its financial support in September. The National Republican Congressional Committee pulled out in October.
The race is by far the most competitive among Colorado’s seven congressional districts, and incumbents elsewhere are expected to win. Republicans currently hold a 4-3 edge in the state’s congressional delegation.
None of Colorado’s other congressional districts appears in danger of switching parties, including a seat left open when incumbent Democrat Jared Polis entered the governor’s race. Democrat Joe Neguse faces Republican Peter Yu in the 2nd District, dominated by Boulder and Fort Collins.
In the other House races:
— Incumbent Democrat Diana DeGette faces Republican Charles Casper Stockham in the Denver-based 1st District.
— GOP Rep. Scott Tipton faces Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a former state lawmaker, in the 3rd District, covering all of western Colorado and reaching southeast to Pueblo.
— Incumbent Republican Ken Buck is running against Democrat Karen McCormick in the 4th District, encompassing Greeley, most of Longmont and the state’s eastern Plains.
— Incumbent Republican Doug Lamborn faces Democrat Stephany Rose Spaulding in the 5th District, dominated by Colorado Springs.
— Incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter faces a challenge from Republican Mark Barrington in the 7th District, another suburban Denver district.
By DAN ELLIOTT, Associated Press
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