The Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, moved to shore up support this week amid speculation former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff would jump into the race for a newly competitive 6th Congressional District.
Days after a Denver District Court judge approved a congressional redistricting map — changing Coffman’s heavily Republican south-metro district to an evenly divided one centered around Aurora — state Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, staked a claim to his party’s nomination by announcing a series of endorsements from Aurora Democrats and every member of his caucus in the state House.
“I don’t anticipate a primary,” Miklosi told The Colorado Statesman on Wednesday.
Undeterred, fans of Romanoff took to the Internet to rally support for a potential candidate they argue is the only one strong enough to take on Coffman, a well-funded incumbent who hasn’t lost an election in more than two decades running for office.
Romanoff, who lost a hard-fought primary bid against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet last year, wasn’t talking to reporters by midweek. But a source close to the Denver Democrat said Romanoff was receiving “an overwhelming number” of calls and e-mails urging him to run.
Meanwhile, Coffman said in a statement early this week that he was disappointed in the judge’s ruling but relished the prospect of a real fight for a third term, whoever the Democrats threw up against him.
Coffman said he was “deeply disappointed” that the new district loses rural parts of Douglas County but pointed out that he’s won statewide races for state treasurer and secretary of state, so his new constituents won’t be strangers.
“I love a tough race,” Coffman said, “and I’ve really missed not having had a challenge since the Republican congressional primary that I won in 2008. This will be a great opportunity to sharpen my skills.”
Adding to the uncertainty, state Republicans said they were considering filing an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn the redistricting map handed down last Thursday by Judge Robert Hyatt. GOP Chairman Ryan Call said in a statement that Republicans object to Hyatt’s ruling due to its “reliance on an artificial notion of competitiveness” and because it splits some counties, a flaw the high court cited when it threw out a map establishing state legislative district lines on Tuesday.
Both Miklosi and Romanoff are Denver residents, though both can also point to ties to areas within the newly drawn district.
Romanoff taught for years at the Community College of Aurora and has spent the last year making speeches before Rotary Clubs and other civic groups throughout the district on behalf of his employer, International Development Enterprises, a Lakewood-based nonprofit dedicated to fighting global poverty.
For his part, Miklosi said he and his wife plan to move into the new district in January and said his roots in the area run deep.
“I want to emphasize that I’ve represented Arapahoe County for three years, worked in the district at Project CURE based in Centennial and was a member of the Highlands Ranch Rotary Club for four years,” Miklosi said. “I have civic, professional and political connections to the 6th district and all the neighborhoods.”
Federal law doesn’t require members of Congress to live in the district they represent, and Colorado voters have recently elect a congressman who only recently lived in a different district before his run for Congress – former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez didn’t move into the newly created 7th Congressional District until early in 2002 just prior to his successful campaign.
Miklosi, who announced his intentions in July to run against Coffman however the district lines were drawn, threw a fundraiser on Monday at an Aurora restaurant with state Sen. Morgan Carroll, a popular Democrat who was considered a possible primary opponent in an Aurora-based 6th District. On Tuesday, Miklosi’s campaign said he had the backing of all the House Democrats.
Later that day former House Speaker Terrance Carroll — who led the chamber after Romanoff was term-limited — took to Twitter and Facebook to endorse Miklosi while at the same time getting in a preemptive dig at any potential late entrants to the race.
Carroll wrote on his Facebook page that Miklosi “showed great courage by announcing his campaign when not a soul thought a [D]emocrat could win that seat. That is the same courage he will show in Congress.”
Miklosi sounded unfazed by recent chatter that he might have a primary challenge from Romanoff, who was his boss at the Capitol before Miklosi became a legislator.
“The response from Democrats and others has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “They’re very excited about the campaign.”
He also batted back concerns that an appeal by the state GOP could result in a different district, even one less favorable for a Democratic candidate.
“This campaign’s never been about the lines,” Mikloi said. “It’s been about job growth, putting people back to work, and making Colorado the renewable energy capital of the country.”
But not all Democrats sounded convinced.
A Democratic source said several prominent Democrats — including elected officials who are nominally backing Miklosi, as well as Washington, D.C.-based political heavyweights — have been on the phone this week with Romanoff encouraging him to consider entering the race.
And a party official who has been a solid Miklosi supporter on Monday put out the word she thinks Romanoff should be the party’s nominee.
Democratic 6th Congressional District chair Shelia Canfield-Jones told The Statesman that she’s heard from numerous supporters since she posted a message on Facebook touting Romanoff as the best candidate.
“People that are talking to me seem to think Joe can’t beat Coffman but Andrew Romanoff could,” Canfield-Jones wrote in an e-mail to The Statesman. “They think Joe is a good guy and they like him but he doesn’t seem to be raising a lot of money.”
Through the end of September, Miklosi’s campaign reported raising $130,000 compared with an $870,000 haul reported by Coffman through the same period. In addition, Coffman pulled in an estimated $844,000 at a Cherry Hills Village fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee late last month that featured House Speaker John Boehner.
A Miklosi campaign spokesman said not to worry about his candidate’s fundraising performance.
“We expect a strong fundraising quarter,” said Dan Mahoney. “Joe essentially raised more in a few months than the 2010 (Democratic) candidate raised in the whole election cycle.” And, he added, that was before anyone knew where the district lines might land. “We’ve been getting a lot more phone calls since that decision,” he said, predicting “pretty strong numbers in the fourth quarter,” which ends Dec. 31.
Starting on Tuesday, an e-mail urging Democrats to contact Romanoff to tell him to run began making the rounds.
“If you agree that Andrew Romanoff would be the best candidate to win CD 6 in 2012 please send him an email and tell him your story,” read an anonymous e-mail that included Romanoff’s e-mail address and links to online speculation that Miklosi might face a primary. It was signed by a group referring to itself as “Volunteers, AR4CD6.”
Asked by The Statesman to reveal who was behind the group, the e-mail’s author declined but made a case for a Romanoff campaign.
“We are just a group of Dems who want to win CD-6 and know Andrew Romanoff is the one person who could do that,” the e-mail account’s owner wrote to The Statesman.
“This isn’t anything against Joe Miklosi but we don’t think he can win,” the Romanoff supporter wrote. Noting that Democrats “would be happy to support Joe” should Romanoff decline to enter the race, the Romanoff supporter continued: “We think that winning is going to take a candidate who has high name recognition, the ability to raise the money to compete with Coffman and a grassroots army to motivate Dems, Independents and even Republicans who know Coffman is too extreme for CD-6.”
Romanoff, the supporter concluded, “could come charging out of the gates, raise money, rally supporters and he could blow Coffman away in debates.”
Since starting a discussion online and meeting to discuss prospects for the upcoming election, the e-mail’s author said, the show of support for Romanoff has been strong: “So far we have over 300 people who have emailed to say they want Andrew to run and would volunteer for him and give money.”
Another Democrat said Miklosi’s list of endorsements doesn’t carry as much weight as the candidate might believe.
“Not for nothin’ but they unanimously endorsed Andrew against Bennet and we know how that worked out,” a Democratic consultant wrote in an e-mail to The Statesman after Miklosi rolled out his list of legislative backers.