Former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean fired up supporters of Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff with a full-throated endorsement at a packed fundraiser on Tuesday in Aurora.
Dean called Romanoff’s Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, “a very pleasant person who always votes with the extreme right wing” and proceeded to blast the agenda he said Coffman represented.
“We have had enough of the extreme right wing,” Dean continued. “We have had enough of the politics of anger, we have had enough of the politics of hate, we have had enough of the politics of division,” Dean told the estimated 750 in attendance at Dora’s Mexican Restaurant. “We need a congressperson who’s going to be there not because it does something for him but because it does something for us, and that is the difference between Andrew Romanoff and Mike Coffman.”
Romanoff, a former speaker of the Colorado House, and Coffman, a three-term incumbent, are locked in what could be one of the country’s most hard-fought and expensive congressional races. With its nearly even split between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters, the Aurora-based 6th Congressional District has been called the swingiest of swing districts, with each party posting in the neighborhood of $600,000 in the year’s first fundraising quarter.
Dean, whose 2004 presidential campaign is widely credited with pioneering the use of the Internet as an organizing tool, pointed to Romanoff volunteers scattered throughout the restaurant and urged supporters to sign up to make phone calls and canvass door-to-door.
“As wonderful as the Internet is, personal connection is what’s really important in politics,” Dean said, adding that talking to the same voter “four or five times” is what’s going to win the election. “Nobody’s getting out of this building without signing up on one of these clipboards,” he joked menacingly.
Romanoff called Dean “a true American patriot,” noting that he had served six terms as governor of Vermont — where he signed the nation’s first civil unions bill — and instituted the vaunted “50-state strategy” as head of the Democratic National Committee.
In an impassioned 12-minute speech, Dean ripped Coffman as representative of the right wing, which he conflated with the current Republican Party, itself, he charged, in thrall to the Tea Party.
“The price of living in a democracy is to do something political every single day. That is what it costs to live in a democracy,” Dean said. “And if you don’t, then you get people who are willing to take away your right to vote by these voter ID laws; then you get people who are willing to allow corporations to poison your water; then you get people who are willing to undercut your children’s ability to support themselves by taking money out of schools; then you get people who tell people who they can and cannot love, then you get authoritarian government. And the Tea Party, which Mike Coffman is a member of, is a desperately dangerous group of people who want to take away our fundamental democracy.”
Dean made several references to what he termed Republican efforts to suppress the vote, at one point turning the rhetoric knob up about as far as it would go.
“This country has been sold down the river by the right wing for their own purposes,” Dean told the wildly enthusiastic crowd. “This is a Republican Party that has decided they like power so much that they think it’s okay to win by taking away the right to vote. They are not American. They could be more comfortable in the Ukraine or Russia. But stay away from our country, this is based on the right to vote.”
After Dean finished speaking, Romanoff took the microphone and dialed it back a notch.
“I’m not asking you to demonize my opponent or question his character or disparage his patriotism,” Romanoff said. “Mike Coffman loves this country. So do I. So do you. Let’s not make that an issue in this race. What I’m asking you to do instead is help spell out the differences, in all the ways we’ve shared here today — on the economy, on education, on health care, on the environment, on the fate of the planet itself, the congressman and I disagree. And it ought to be an honest debate.”
The Coffman campaign rolled its figurative eyes at Dean’s remarks about the GOP’s status as Americans but said that the comment typifies the Romanoff campaign.
“There’s a reason Howard Dean melted down before our very eyes during his failed 2004 presidential campaign — he’s a few fries short of a happy meal,” said Coffman campaign manager Tyler Sandberg. “His shrill rhetoric is simply reflective of the left wing Democrat agenda Romanoff would gladly rubber stamp.”
During the last election, Coffman took heat for remarks he made at a fundraiser in 2012 when he was talking about President Barack Obama’s citizenship and said, “In his heart, he’s not an American.” After 9News aired a recording of the remarks, Coffman apologized, saying he had misspoken. “I have confidence in President Obama’s citizenship and legitimacy as President of the United States,” Coffman said in a statement. But the Republican has been saddled with the comment ever since: At a Romanoff campaign event at the same Mexican restaurant in February, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar hammered Coffman for a litany of remarks, including referring to Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” and calling Obama un-American.
At the same time as the Romanoff fundraiser with Dean was taking place, Coffman and his wife, Republican attorney general candidate Cynthia Coffman, were attending a campaign event in Aurora with the African Leadership Group and some 100 members of African immigrant communities. Sandberg said the difference between the two events was worth noting.
“While Mike was listening to leaders in the growing African immigrant community in Aurora, Speaker Romanoff was pandering to extreme, out-of-touch Democrat leaders for campaign dollars,” said campaign manager Tyler Sandberg. “It’s a pretty clear contrast — Romanoff raising dollars to fund his sleazy attacks, while Mike spends time working hard to find solutions and better represent his district.”
See the May 16 print edition for full photo coverage.