Romanoff’s early entrance into CD 6 race enhances speculation

The Colorado Statesman

Almost as if on cue, former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, submitted his official statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District — just a day after the Democrats’ House Majority PAC announced that incumbent Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, had been named to a list of most vulnerable Republicans in the country.

It didn’t take Romanoff long to decide to plunge into the 2014 race, somewhat surprising given his past history of dilly-dallying when it comes to becoming a candidate. Romanoff, who lost to Sen. Michael Bennet in the 2010 Senate primary race, had toyed with running for CD 6 in the following election. But the popular policy wonk took an excruciating long time before opting against it, leaving some of his supporters frustrated and lesser known Democratic Rep. Joe Miklosi with a clear route to the nomination. Miklosi moved across the border into the Aurora-based congressional district a year ago, but had trouble shaking the carpet-bagger label against the hometown incumbent, who has been winning votes in Aurora for decades. Nonetheless, Miklosi came within 2 points of unseating Coffman in a strong year for Democrats.

Romanoff’s quick entry into the 2014 race shows that he may have matured in his decision-making ability — a definite plus among some of his critics of the past — and making him the early frontrunner. The district — which looks virtually nothing like its old configuration, which reliably sent Republicans Jack Swigert, Dan Schaefer, Tom Tancredo and Coffman to Congress for three decades — is expected to grow increasingly favorable to Democrats as its demographics change year to year, too, making Coffman’s narrow win last year less a blip than a portend, political observers say.

Romanoff said on Friday that he’s running to represent the 6th District for the same reason he first ran for the Statehouse: “I want to make it possible for every child to enjoy the same kind of basic opportunities my mom and dad gave me: A solid education, a steady source of health care, and a safe place to live.”

To create those opportunities, Romanoff added, “we need a strong economy, a public sector that understands and supports local businesses, and a 21st-century infrastructure.”

Romanoff, who since 2010 has served as a senior advisor with International Development Enterprises (IDE), a Colorado-based non-profit organization that works in developing countries to create income opportunities and provide low cost water access for rural households, acknowledged that he’s learned a lot over the last four years. In a blast email this weekend, he is already asking supporters to make a donation and get his 2014 campaign off the ground. In 2010, Romanoff ended up selling his Denver house to help finance his unsuccessful U.S. Senate race, and was in debt when the campaign ended.

The race to take on Coffman next year in the newly competitive 6th Congressional District might have gotten a little more crowded this week as another potential candidate hinted at her plans.

The daughter of state Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, announced in a Facebook post that her mother was weighing a run for the seat.

“So proud of my mama, who (after being asked too many times to count) has decided to seriously consider running for/serving as Congresswoman for CD 6! Excited to see where this faithwalk takes us,” wrote Kate Newell on Monday night, setting off a flurry of speculation and chatter.

The morning after word of her potential candidacy emerged, Newell tweeted back to The Statesman reporter who first broke the news, “Flattered to be ‘breaking’ last night but no final decisions yet. I'm honored to be asked to consider. No secret I love to serve.”

And also in the hunt could be former state Rep. Karen Middleton — who resigned her House seat in 2010 to take over the presidency of Emerge America, an organization that encourages women to run for office — and who has recently moved back to Aurora from the San Francisco area.

State Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, has also been getting plenty of encouragement to run and her statehouse colleague Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, is also mentioned frequently as a potential candidate for the seat, although whispers suggest she might aim elsewhere if she seeks another office next year. Fields issued a statement this weekend praising Romanoff’s candidacy, so it seems unlikely at this point that she’ll decide to challenge him in a primary.

The reason so many Democrats are coming out of the woodwork for the chance to take on Coffman? National Dems are already highlighting the race, on Thursday placing it among their Top 10 pick-up opportunities in an announcement by the House Majority PAC — it backs Democrats and claims an 80 percent success rate in last year’s contests — in a fundraising email.

The list of Republican incumbents who “should be shaking in their boots” includes “Tea Partiers like Michele Bachmann, Mike Coffman, who questioned whether the President was born in the U.S., and Joe Heck, who called Social Security a Ponzi scheme,” writes House Majority PAC executive director Alixandria Lapp. That’s not exactly the company Coffman — a veteran and former legislator, state treasurer and secretary of state — has cultivated over the decades, but that’s what a swing-seat congressman can expect. (Coffman laid to rest plenty of other speculation last month when he said he doesn’t plan to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado’s other high-stakes national race on next year’s ballot.)

After the congressional district lines were finalized in late 2011, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee scoured the ranks of possible candidates and, our sources tell us, made pitches to each of the potential Dem candidates who have so far emerged, as well as a few other tantalizing possibilities. (Chiropractor — and physician, his supporters were quick to remind — Perry Haney was briefly a candidate for the Democratic nomination but dropped from the race in early February, leaving Miklosi the default candidate.)

What’s occurring now, the politically savvy contend, is a sort of pre-primary where proto-candidates float balloons, gauge their support among the chattering class, and, most importantly, secure commitments for strong out-of-the-gate fundraising, should they declare. And that’s where Romanoff — and to some degree Middleton — likely hold an advantage. Both have extensive fundraising contacts and legions of admirers.

While the conventional wisdom has it that the immensely likeable Romanoff has the upper hand and could clear the field now that he has made a preemptive announcement, Middleton supporters scoff at that notion. Not only are some of the wounds from the 2010 Senate primary still raw, despite protestations to the contrary, but there’s a strong contingent of Democrats who believe it’s time that Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette isn’t the only woman in Colorado’s federal delegation.

What’s more, Middleton partisans say, Romanoff’s role in the 2006 legislative special session — yielding what was then termed some of the “toughest” immigration legislation in the country — won’t sit well with the district’s large and influential Latino population.

Where does Newell fit in the mix? She won reelection last year by a more comfortable than expected margin in a district that looks a lot like the state as a whole. Unlike Romanoff, who lives in Denver, or Middleton, who recently moved back to Colorado after a two-year sojourn in Northern California, Newell can claim continuous residence in the district — although an address change didn’t hamper former Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez when he moved into the new 7th District back before the 2002 election.