The bitter and hotly contested race in the 6th Congressional District between incumbent Republican Mike Coffman of Aurora and Democratic challenger state Rep. Joe Miklosi of Denver is finally approaching the finish line, with outside interests having poured $5.6 million into the prolonged battle.
The barrage of money is an indication of the volatility of the district following redistricting last year. Congressional boundaries were re-drawn to eliminate crucial Republican-leaning voters, giving a more competitive advantage to Democrats. Current voter registration numbers through October for CD 6 show 154,888 Democrats, 156,252 Republicans and 159,861 unaffiliated voters.
CD 6 has been in Republican control since the district was created in 1983, so Democrats are energized about finally having an opportunity to potentially wrestle power away from the GOP.
In a sign of the national interest taken in the race, Miklosi received an endorsement Tuesday night by former President Bill Clinton during a campaign stop on behalf of President Obama, who was forced to cancel his scheduled appearance due to the devastation caused by the monster storm Sandy on the East Coast.
During a 20-minute speech at Adams City High School in Commerce City, Clinton urged voters to put Miklosi over the top in his race against Coffman, a former state representative, state treasurer and secretary of state during his long career in Colorado politics.
In a fundraising e-mail on behalf of Miklosi the next day, Clinton said, “My friend Joe Miklosi’s district is being downright flooded with false attack ads from those GOP Super PACs. If Joe’s going to win, we have to stand up and help him fight back.”
“No one ever said elections are easy,” continued Clinton. “But our country deserves better leaders than these tea party Republicans in Congress. We simply can’t afford to return to the same old top-down policies that got us in trouble in the first place.”
Miklosi will surely benefit from such a high level endorsement, but he also believes the intense interest in the 2012 presidential race here in the state has worked to his advantage.
“Colorado is one of the nine battleground states… that’s critical for turning people out to vote,” said Miklosi. “[The president’s] momentum, or his infrastructure, definitely assists me because he can reach more people than I can…”
In CD 6, Obama won in 2008 with 303,629 votes, compared to Republican challenger John McCain’s 265,952 votes in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties combined, which currently make up CD 6.
Also indicating national interest, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has infused $1.5 million into the race, according to figures through October compiled by the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, a campaign finance tracker. Miklosi has also been backed by $1.7 million from other Democratic interests, unions, progressives and pro-choice organizations.
Republicans, however, have been spending big money to keep the suburban congressional seat in their control. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent $2.1 million through October on the race, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Another $230,981 has come from conservative interest groups, pro-life organizations and the gun lobby.
The race reportedly represents the 14th most expensive congressional House race in the nation for outside spending, and is by far the most expensive congressional race in Colorado.
The candidates themselves have been busy soliciting campaign funds. Coffman raised $2.7 million in contributions for his re-election bid, and was left with $512,253 in the bank, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission through October. Miklosi has $1.5 million in contributions, and with $112,740 cash on hand.
Between efforts by the candidates themselves and outside interest groups, more than $9.8 million is the price tag so far in this highly contested CD 6 contest.
As a result, a tsunami of mostly digital and broadcast advertising has infected the race, mostly consisting of attacks from both campaigns.
Coffman has been blasted by opponents for supporting limits on contraception, a plan to convert Medicare into a voucher program, and proposals that would prohibit abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The candidate maintains that the facts were distorted and that while he is pro-life, he would not change the definition of rape so that abortions are illegal in such cases. He has also tried to walk away from past support for so-called personhood, which is an effort to assign constitutional rights to the unborn in an attempt to ban abortion.
Miklosi has been attacked for his votes in the state legislature, which raised fees and eliminated tax deductions, as well as for his opposition to mandatory sentencing for sexual offenders, especially child predators. Miklosi, likewise, says those claims are false, and that he ultimately voted for legislation that imposed tough new laws on child predators.
“I can only control my actions and my attitude about the funding that I raised for my campaign…” Miklosi told The Colorado Statesman this week. “Voters do get turned off by some of the negative advertising. Voters also want to know distinctions and differences between the two opponents on their platform and their issues. And while 30-second sound bites might not be the best way to communicate, it’s one of the mediums we use…”
Coffman also defended big spending in the race, but said he has been frustrated by the personal attacks. “The ads that my campaign has put forward are on very specific votes, because I said whatever we do, it has to be honest. And [Miklosi’s ads] are more of a caricature of me… and so it’s been disappointing.”
But Miklosi says Coffman brought the negativity upon himself when in May he made a controversial comment regarding Obama’s birthplace, telling Elbert County GOP donors: “I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.”
Coffman immediately backpedaled and his campaign went into damage control, but the harm had been done. The comment made national headlines, and it helped thrust Miklosi — a little-known lawmaker in Colorado, much less the nation — into the spotlight. From there, the donations from liberals and Democratic interests started pouring in, and Republicans were forced on the defensive.
“This race did become national back in the month of May when Congressman Coffman made his birther comments. That’s what drew the national attention,” confirmed Miklosi. “When he said the president was not an American and he didn’t know where he was born… that was the big turning point in this race.”
Coffman, however, said he has survived the misstep: “The calls that I make, [voters] don’t bring it up. It’s just not brought up. People are concerned about jobs and the economy, and [Miklosi] doesn’t have a record on jobs and the economy, and I do.”
The congressman added that he hasn’t taken the attacks personally, pointing to his storied career in the military, which he says has given him a very thick skin.
Getting to the issues
Somewhere between the millions of dollars raised in the race, the missteps and gaffes, the onslaught of attack ads, and the national attention brought by the presidential race, there are a slew of policy differences in this congressional contest. Those issues were apparent during the candidates’ final debate last Tuesday in Highlands Ranch hosted by the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, the Highlands Ranch Chamber of Commerce and the Highlands Ranch Community Association.
The debate focused on jobs and the economy, and the audience was filled with business leaders in this Republican-leaning part of CD 6. Both candidates began by agreeing with each other that access to capital for businesses is crucial for Congress to address.
“One of the first bills I would work on is updating… Dodd-Frank legislation to make sure that loans can be made to individuals,” Miklosi said to a packed audience at the Recreation Center at Southridge, referring to banking reform legislation from 2010 by former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.
Coffman concurred that access to capital is important. He took the opportunity to name-check Democrats he has worked with on the banking issue, including U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden. Appealing to bipartisanship could help Coffman in CD 6 where unaffiliated voters total more than Republicans and Democrats.
He said his focus has been on creating access to capital by removing burdensome regulatory mandates while ensuring oversight, and also adding capital requirements to an administrative appeals process.
“I will continue working with Congressman Perlmutter on access to capital and lending for small businesses,” said Coffman. “I think that is absolutely essential.”
Also appealing to moderate voters, Coffman said defense cuts need to be on the table as lawmakers discuss how to reduce the nation’s ballooning deficit. The congressman said he has considered the topic from the perspective of his military background and his position on the Armed Services Committee.
“Defense can be on the table,” he said. “We can make cuts without compromising national security.”
On the topic of energy, Miklosi said he believes in an all-of-the-above strategy that includes traditional and renewable energy resources. He accused Congress of pretending to believe in that strategy when what it really wants are more subsidies and tax breaks for traditional energy producers.
“We need to make sure ‘all of the above’ isn’t just oil and gas,” he said.
Coffman attacked the Obama Administration for its energy industry loan guarantee program, which was heavily scrutinized following the failure of solar company Solyndra.
“All these credits and deductions, at the end of the day, have been expanded and expanded to the point where we really created a culture of corporate welfare,” he said.
Compared to previous debates, the exchange on Tuesday was relatively tame. The two candidates rarely attacked each other, and tensions never seemed to rise.
Miklosi did take one jab at Coffman when he alleged that his opponent is a tea party darling. Coffman has been endorsed by FreedomWorks for America, a political committee that backs tea party causes and is an advocate for less government intervention and lower taxes. Coffman also joined conservative U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party Caucus in 2010.
“The tea party acts almost like high school football coaches who say, ‘It’s my way or the highway,’” said Miklosi.
The forgotten candidate
One CD 6 candidate, however, was not invited to the recent debate. Independent Kathy Polhemus, a former teacher and community activist, was busy canvassing her district, knocking on doors in an effort to get voters to realize that there are other choices in the election.
Polhemus acknowledges that she has been com-pletely overshadowed by the money and advertising in the race, but she is dedicated to advancing her independent message and has contributed $93,241 to her own campaign. She has raised an additional $6,490.
What inspired Polhemus to run was the lack of progress made from the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which met in 2010 to address and propose solutions for the nation’s out-of-control debt crisis.
“That’s when I threw up my hands and said, ‘Why doesn’t anybody get anything done?’” explained Polhemus. “This is my children’s and grandchildren’s future.”
The negative campaigning in the race has disillusioned her, but at the same time, she is grateful that she has been able to avoid the attacks by flying under the radar.
“I haven’t been called a child molester, I suppose that’s good,” she joked.
Polhemus is frustrated that she is not regularly invited to participate in debates and forums alongside Coffman and Miklosi, and fears that the major party political machine will never allow for alternatives in elections.
“It’s more like a conspiracy of silence among the big money parties…” she said. “It’s all party line, all the time.”
Also running in the district is Libertarian Patrick Provost.