Democratic legislators will be led by two congressional candidates next year with a third serving in the Colorado House. Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and state Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, this week joined House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, launching bids to unseat incumbent Republican U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton, respectively, even though congressional lines won’t be known for months.
Shaffer and Pace have both said they plan to serve out their terms and retain their leadership positions in the 2012 General Assembly despite restrictions on fundraising during the four-month session. Unlike Pace, whose 3rd Congressional District will almost certainly include his hometown of Pueblo, both Shaffer and Miklosi said they’d move into their target districts if boundaries drawn by a court require it.
The decision by Shaffer — who ran briefly for the 4th Congressional District seat in 2008 before stepping aside for the race’s eventual winner, former one-term U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey — came as no surprise following word this spring that one of the top congressional Democrats had successfully recruited the legislator to take on Gardner. In late May, House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, told The Denver Post editorial board that Shaffer and Pace had both agreed to be candidates, though Shaffer later said he would make his decision whether to run during a vacation in June.
Shaffer announced via YouTube and Twitter on July 4 that he had made up his mind to challenge Gardner for the northern Colorado seat the Yuma native took from Markey last year.
“CD 4, I’m in!” Shaffer tweeted on Monday night in a message that included a link to a video shot earlier that day in Shaffer’s backyard. The brief clip began with a scene that featured several children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and then pictured Shaffer speaking to a group of picnickers.
“A lot of you know that we have been considering a very important decision in our family,” Shaffer said. “And before we announced our decision to the general public, we thought we’d bring a group of very close friends and family and neighbors and people who have been very supportive over the years, together to share the decision that we’ve made with you first. “Tomorrow, I’m going to announce that I am an official candidate for Congress.”
On Tuesday, Shaffer’s campaign issued a more formal announcement, including the notice the legislator was filing the paperwork to make the run official.
“I’m tired of watching the Washington, D.C. game that’s focused on chalking up political points instead of solving problems,” he said in a statement. “We do things differently here in the West. We take an independent approach that is rooted in common sense. I call it ‘Colorado Solutions,’ and I want to bring that tradition to the United States Congress.”
Shaffer slammed Gardner for backing a House GOP budget plan that would reconfigure Medicare — foes of the proposal say it would end the guaranteed health coverage for older Americans — and took shots at the freshman for his toes to the nation’s capitol.
“Our current representative is a politician who has spent much of his career in Washington, D.C. as an attorney and congressman,” Shaffer said. “Somewhere along the line, he lost his way. Supporting a plan that would end Medicare as we know it was part of a prevailing wind blowing in the wrong direction. Colorado needs a compass in Congress, not a weather vane.”
A spokeswoman for Gardner didn’t return a request for comment. But state and national Republicans wasted no time.
“Brandon Shaffer has led Colorado down a path to economic ruin by championing steep tax hikes, reckless spending, and punitive regulations on small businesses,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton, a veteran of state Republican politics. “After being heavily recruited by Nancy Pelosi’s top lieutenant, there is no question Brandon Shaffer will be a puppet for her big-spending and job-killing agenda.”
On Wednesday, the NRCC announced that Gardner raised over $300,000 in the quarter that ended on June 30, on par with the $316,000 he raised in the first quarter of this year. The district has been represented by Republicans — including two who went on to serve in the U.S. Senate — since the early 1970s except for the single term won by Markey.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call greeted Shaffer’s bid with a similar broadside: “Brandon Shaffer’s consistent record of increasing taxes and burdensome regulations on small business is exactly why Coloradoans are struggling to find employment. Colorado families cannot afford Senator Shaffer’s flawed policies and another vote for Nancy Pelosi’s reckless agenda in Washington. I am confident that Colorado voters will reject Brandon Shaffer’s job-killing record in 2012.”
Miklosi told The Colorado Statesman he intended to formally announce his campaign on Thursday, after press time. The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the Denver Democrat had filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, though Miklosi didn’t return phone calls from The Statesman seeking comment.
Coffman, who easily disposed of token Democratic opponents to win his two terms representing the suburban, Republican-leaning district, welcomed Miklosi to the race.
“It will be an exciting campaign,” Coffman said. “The differences between us couldn’t be clearer — a conservative Marine Corps combat veteran running against a Nancy Pelosi liberal from Denver. The voters of the 6th Congressional District will have to decide if they want someone in Congress with the courage to take on the tough issues or someone who will tell them what they want to hear as our nation slips deeper and deeper into a debt crisis.”
Coffman added, “I fully expect him to raise a lot of money and for this to be a tough race.”
Pace reported last week that his campaign raised over $100,000 in its first month, including contributions from more than 425 donors.
The Legislature failed to produce a redrawn map of the state’s seven congressional districts following the Census this year. Both parties have filed lawsuits asking a court to draw the lines with a trial date set for October.
While Democratic challengers are rushing the field early, a state GOP official said not to expect similar announcements from Republicans hoping to unseat U.S. Reps. Jared Polis or Ed Perlmutter — two incumbents whose districts lean Democratic but might be more competitive with new boundaries — any time soon.
“I am confident we will have good candidates for both of those seats, however until redistricting is completed potential candidates will be laying low,” said state Republican executive director Chuck Poplstein.