The skies smiled on the more than 400 supporters of U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman on Sunday as they gathered for what has become an annual tradition, a fundraising barbecue in the spacious Greenwood Village backyard of James and Joy Hoffman, who chairs the Arapahoe County Republican Party.
Although sudden showers drenched parts of the metro area and storm clouds loomed through the afternoon, by the time Coffman backers sat down to nosh on hot dogs and hamburgers, the sun was shining and a cooling breeze filled the air.
“This has been ranked as the most competitive race in the United States for the House of Representatives,” a shirtsleeves-clad Coffman told the crowd in informal remarks. “Right here, in this district, it is ground zero in terms of the national debate on so many issues.”
Coffman wasn’t exaggerating the stakes. The contest between the Republican Coffman and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, his Democratic challenger, is routinely listed among the top-targeted races by both parties and is on track to becoming the most expensive congressional race in Colorado history. It’s also garnered attention from a high-profile liberal, who drew Coffman’s ire at the picnic.
“Bill Maher — a comedian, who characterized the 9/11 terrorists as courageous — that Bill Maher will be announcing next month that he will target one race and try to leverage his show in quote-unquote flipping a Republican district into Democrat hands,” Coffman told the crowd. “There is no question in my mind that this will be the district he will pick. And we will do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The feisty host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher announced earlier this month that Coffman was among the four Republican “finalists” in a narrowing bracket he has been promoting all year, part of an experiment in “outright meddling with the political process” dubbed “Flip-a-District.” Of the finalists, Coffman is the only incumbent representing a swing seat — the others, Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas and Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, all hail from solidly Republican districts — and has a good chance of learning he’s the comedian’s target when the show returns from summer hiatus on Sept. 12. Maher has said he intends to leverage his show’s audience and throw in attack ads sponsored by his Super PAC.
Coffman sounded familiar campaign themes in his broadside against Romanoff, who moved into the district from Denver early last year right before making his candidacy official.
“I tell you what, Nancy Pelosi picked my opponent to move into this district because of his eight-year record where he did everything he could to increase spending, to increase taxes and to increase regulations on the people of Colorado. He wants to do the same that he did for Colorado for this country. We’ve got to stop him from doing that,” Coffman said.
“He moved into this district, this community, not because he wants to live in this community, but because he wants to live in Washington D.C.,” Coffman continued. “I’ve spent 50 years of my life calling Aurora, Colorado, home.”
Then, repeating an attack he launched at the candidates’ first debate several days earlier, Coffman contrasted his military background with Romanoff’s academic bona fides.
“I don’t think two candidates could be any different than I am from my opponent, Speaker Andrew Romanoff. He went to an exclusive, private prep school — that, by the way, isn’t on his website — and I went to Aurora Public Schools and I earned a high school diploma serving in the United States Army. He went to Harvard and Yale, and I went to the United States Army and Marine Corps,” Coffman said. (When Coffman lobbed a similarly worded attack at last Thursday’s debate, Romanoff responded, “I’m glad that I was able to get a good education, and I’m running for Congress because I want to make it possible for every student in America to get a good education.”)
“This race is going to be a dogfight, there’s no question about it. But who would you rather bet on — an Ivy League liberal or a Marine combat veteran? I think I’ll take the Marine combat veteran,” Coffman said, eliciting a few “hoorah” shouts from the enthusiastic crowd.
Coffman is no stranger to close races — he won his first term as state treasurer over Democratic nominee Jim Polsfut by just 2 points and some change, was elected secretary of state over then-state Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, by the same margin, and won his third term in Congress two years ago by a closer-than-expected 2 points over state Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver.
Coffman was first elected to the state House in 1988 and took an unpaid leave of absence in 1990 to serve in the Gulf War. He went on to the state Senate in 1994, when he filled a vacancy created by fellow Aurora Republican Bill Owens’ election as state treasurer. Coffman won a close race for state treasurer in 1998, the year Owens won the governorship, and was reelected in 2002. He resigned in 2005 to serve in Iraq and was reappointed to the post in 2006, though he only filled the seat briefly, going on to win a term as secretary of state later that year. Coffman resigned that seat midterm after winning a crowded GOP primary in 2008 to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo representing the 6th CD, which was a heavily Republican seat before being redrawn as a solid swing seat after the 2010 redistricting.
The picnic was swarming with elected officials, Republican Party officers and candidates. Among those mingling under the towering trees in the Hoffmans’ backyard were state House Minority Caucus Whip Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, CU Regent Steve Bosley, Centennial Mayor Cathy Noon, Greenwood Village Mayor Ron Rakowsky, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, Aurora Mayor Pro Tem Bob Roth, Aurora City Council members Bob Broom, Brad Pierce, Marsha Berzins, Lakewood City Councilwoman Ramey Johnson, Greenwood Village Councilwoman Leslie Schluter, Englewood City Councilman Joe Jefferson, South Metro Fire-Rescue Board member Rich Sokol, Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call, Colorado GOP vice chairman Mark Baisley, Elbert County Republican Party Chairman Scott Wills and legislative candidates Richard Bowman, Molly Barrett and JulieMarie Shepherd.
Another candidate in the crowd got a special mention from Coffman during his remarks: Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, Coffman’s wife and the Republican nominee for the seat currently held by her boss, Attorney General John Suthers.
“I think that the race for attorney general is the most defining race — this race — in the history of the state of Colorado,” Coffman said, “where one candidate, on the other side, believes in the Eric Holder style of justice, that he will pick and chose which laws he will defend. Cynthia believes in the rule of law, that she will defend all Colorado’s laws.” (Democratic attorney general nominee Don Quick has slammed Suthers and Cynthia Coffman for defending the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriages during numerous court proceedings in recent months despite rulings by higher courts that the ban is unconstitutional.)
“It’s going to be a tough race, but when people compare the two of them, there’s no comparison,” said Johnson, who noted that she and her husband have been strong Coffman supporters going on 25 years.
Former state Rep. Ruth Prendergast, R-Denver, agreed.
“I’ve known Mike for a long time — I used to work for him when he was state treasurer, so we go back a long, long time,” she smiled, adding that she volunteers at Coffman’s campaign office every chance she gets. “He’s got a fight on his hand, but there’s a lot of support out there for him.”
Thanking the Hoffmans for throwing another winning fundraiser, Coffman underlined what he said will sway voters.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be talking to your neighbors, it’s that door-to-door effort that’s going to make the difference,” he said. “This is going to be a close race, there’s no question about it. And with your help, I know we can win, and I know we can keep this seat in Republican hands.”
See the August 22 print edition for full photo coverage.