More than 100 supporters gathered to wish U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman a happy 59th birthday on March 22 at the Aurora Summit steakhouse and to chip in $59 each in what has become an annual fundraiser for the Aurora Republican. This year, he’ll be able to use every penny in what national observers have pegged one of the toughest reelection bids by any incumbent member of Congress, as Coffman faces former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the evenly divided 6th Congressional District.
“Knowing Mike is knowing his deep commitment to whatever he does, and that has never been more true than in this election cycle, because he has a fight on his hands,” said his wife, Cynthia Coffman, before the candidate blew out the candles on his birthday cake. “Mike and I know that he will win it. He’ll win it in part because Aurora is his hometown.”
Introducing her husband, Coffman, herself a candidate for attorney general this year, took a swing at Romanoff.
“His opponent, as far as I can tell his only connection to this district is a rental property and the vague hope that he might be able to win an election here,” she said. “But we know better because we have a hometown hero, and he’s the one who’s going to win this election.”
Coffman also touted her husband’s legendary campaign stamina.
She said she’d had to consider carefully whether she could match his vigor on the campaign trail when she was weighing whether to run — she’s in a primary against state Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, the winner of which will face former District Attorney Don Quick in the fall — and decided she came up short.
“I’m not that crazy, I’m not that obsessed, and I’m not that energetic,” she laughed. “I pale by comparison.”
Still, she noted, this past week she’d had what she termed “a glimmer of campaigning like Mike Coffman” when she decided one night to trek to Durango to speak at the La Plata County Republican assembly the next day. Following a 13-hour round-trip drive, she realized, “That is a Mike Coffman move, if there ever was one.” Then she added, “Here’s the difference: the next morning, I called to arrange a massage and a B-12 shot. Mike would just do 500 pushups and he’d be ready to go again.”
But the “hometown hero” label was the constant theme at the party as friends and supporters recounted Coffman’s many races over the years — he’s been winning elections with Aurora votes for decades, first serving in the Legislature, then as state treasurer and secretary of state before winning a seat in Congress in 2008 — and said they expected him to prevail in this contest.
Aurora Councilman Bob LeGare grinned as he recalled first meeting Coffman in the early 1980s at the local chamber of commerce.
“I think Mike’s going to win this congressional race. In the 31 years I’ve known Mike, the only race he ever lost was when he ran for Aurora City Council,” he said. “Mike needs to keep doing what he’s doing. He’s a diligent campaigner — he’s everywhere. The important message for people is that Mike is an Aurora hometown resident. Mike knows this city better than any candidate who’s run in this district before. Mike’s the guy.”
The 6th CD encompasses Aurora and portions of Adams County, including Brighton and Thornton, along with the more densely populated portions of Arapahoe County and a sliver of Douglas County, including Lone Tree and Highlands Ranch. While it was a solidly Republican district when Coffman first won the seat, its current make-up is almost equally divided between Republican, Democratic and independent voters. Coffman defeated little-known former state Rep. Joe Miklosi by just 2 points in 2012, the first election under the new boundaries.
“Because of the nature of this district, it’s going to be a close race,” Coffman acknowledged to the crowd, noting that President Barack Obama carried the district’s precincts twice. But he said his work in Congress on the House Small Business, Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees — plus the fact that he’s the only member of the state’s delegation who is a veteran, having served in both the first Gulf War and the Iraq War — make him perfectly suited to Aurora’s legacy as a military town.
In fact, that’s how Coffman wound up in Aurora 50 years ago, when his father, a career soldier, was stationed at the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center — and that’s how he met Tony Castillo, a childhood friend whose father was also stationed in Fitzsimons when the two lads were both 9 years old.
“Aurora was a military town then in 1964,” Coffman mused, interrupting recollections with Castillo. “Aurora was a little town sandwiched between Lowry (Air Force Base) on the west side, Buckley (Air National Guard Base) on the east side, Fitzimons on the north side, and the south side didn’t go anywhere. Most of the town was between 6th Avenue and Colfax.”
Castillo smiled at the thought of his grade-school friend locked in a tight congressional race 50 years after they first met.
“He’s had it in him. He’s a great guy, I’ve known him a long time,” he said. “It may be tough, but I have the utmost confidence.”
Aurora Councilwoman Barb Cleland said those deep hometown roots are one thing that will help Coffman prevail over Romanoff, who moved into the district a year ago from Denver.
“Michael is well known in the community,” she said. “Michael has a name. People know who he is, they don’t know who his opponent is.”
Arapahoe County Republican Party Chairwoman Joy Hoffman agreed.
She said she believes Coffman has the upper hand in the competitive race “based on his residency and long-term life in the Aurora area. He grew up here, his life has been here, he’s always returned here.”
Even as the campaigns hammer each other on national issues — the economy, immigration, health care — Hoffman said that hometown ties will make a difference for plenty of voters.
“When somebody has roots in the community and knows his neighbors and has family and connections that embed, I think it makes a big difference in how the community perceives somebody,” she said.
Like others at the birthday party, she said that Obamacare — considered a silver bullet by some Republicans, who note that a majority of Colorado voters disapprove of the signature Democratic program — might not be as decisive as some expect.
“I think Obamacare is an easy issue to tar and feather both sides,” Hoffman said. “At the end of the day, whether or not a person has a job, can maintain
his family, keep a home, grow his business if he choses — I think those are the most important parts of the campaign.”
Like Coffman, Romanoff has also routinely made his birthdays the occasion for political fundraisers over the years, collecting $47 apiece from celebrants last summer at a party at Aurora’s Bicentennial Park.
See the March 28 print edition for full photo coverage.