Romanoff’s primary path becomes more certain

Sen. Newell says she won’t run in CD 6; Coffman not focused on campaign right now
The Colorado Statesman

Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff’s path to take on incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, became clearer this week after a Democratic legislator said she wouldn’t join what could be one of the country’s marquee congressional races.

State Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, on Friday quelled speculation — fueled by her daughter’s Facebook post the previous week — that she would run in the 6th Congressional District and threw her backing behind Romanoff.

Noting that she had carried one of the top-targeted Senate races in the state last fall by more than 8 points, Newell said in a statement, “[D]espite receiving strong encouragement from across the district and from my two incredible daughters, I have made the decision to not run for Congress in 2014.”

Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff talks with former Aurora Mayor Paul Tauer at the ceremonial groundbreaking for a veterans’ memorial in Aurora. Earlier that day, Romanoff announced he intends to challenge U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in the next election.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Newell contended that the district’s voters “deserve someone who cares more about putting the people ahead of politics and who can work across the aisle to solve our nation’s problems instead of just listening to the fringe of his political party.” She added, “That is the type of moderate legislator I strive to be, and I have no doubt that I would bring that type of common sense to a Congress where it is sorely lacking.”

Then Newell gave Romanoff a ringing endorsement: “I would be proud to call Andrew Romanoff my Congressman and will do everything in my power to help him before and after the election.”

Romanoff could still face a primary.

Former state Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, who heads a national organization that encourages Democratic women to run for office, has made no secret of her inclination to join the race, though by press time hadn’t said whether she would run.

After finally passing on the chance to run for the 6th CD last year — he was aggressively recruited for the bid by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after the redrawn district’s boundaries turned it into a toss-up seat — Romanoff wasted no time this cycle making a decision. He also moved into Aurora at the end of last week, though Colorado law only requires that congressional representatives be state residents.

Romanoff made appearances on Saturday before Adams and Douglas County Democrats and later joined a crowd at a groundbreaking for a memorial to Colorado veterans in Aurora. He displayed his trademark wit describing the lessons learned during his unsuccessful Senate primary bid in 2010.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, spoke briefly with former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a Denver Democrat who had just announced his campaign to unseat Coffman, at a ceremonial groundbreaking for a veterans’ memorial on Feb. 2 in Aurora.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I spent a long time studying the results of the last race I ran and pour-ing over the returns,” Romanoff told The Colorado Statesman, tongue at least grazing his cheek. “And we reach-ed one key strategic decision: I think, this time, we’re going to try to get more votes than the other candidate. That’s really the key to this strategy.”

For his part, Coffman sounded unimpressed that he already has at least one potential opponent, 21 months before voters go to the polls.

“We just had an election, and voters elected me to be their representative, not a full-time candidate,” he told The Statesman. “Right now, I’m focused on working across the aisle for policies to help Colorado’s working families and small business owners succeed.”

The campaign wing of the congressional Republicans, however, took some swift shots at Romanoff, dubbing the Democrat “the chief proponent of the largest tax hike in Colorado history” and calling him “wildly out of touch with the needs of Colorado’s hardworking families.”

“Romanoff’s long-standing ties to special interest groups make him unfit to represent the middle class in Congress,” continued National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton, a former Coffman staffer.

Romanoff brushed off the early criticism and laid out a campaign theme similar to the one he articulated when he challenged U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in a Democratic primary three years ago.

“Here’s the case I’m going to make to the voters of this district: If you like the Congress you’ve got, you should probably find someone else,” he said, suggesting that voters “are fed up with the dysfunction they see in Washington, D.C.” and want “men and women who are committed to solving problems, not just pointing fingers or picking a fight.”

Recent news, Romanoff said, has done nothing to change his mind about the mess in Washington.

“The debate over the fiscal cliff was embarrassing, both as a former lawmaker, and an American; it was a tragedy to watch this Keystone Kops routine continue to bungle one of the top national priorities,” he said.

Romanoff contrasted Americans’ low opinion of Congress — last month, polling showed that voters think more highly of cockroaches and Genghis Khan than they do of Congress, though the legislative body was slightly more popular than the Ebola virus and the Kardashians – with his record in the legislature.

“I spent eight years bringing Democrats and Republicans together in Colorado to tackle tough issues. That doesn’t happen much in Washington. You see the two parties at loggerheads, and you see Americans picking up the pieces,” he said.

Romanoff said that he can bring a different approach to Washington.

“If you look at the priorities the country now faces — repairing the economy, bringing more good jobs to the states, if you look at the cost of health care, which is spiraling out of control — you’re looking at a list of priorities that ought not to be explicitly red or blue. These are not Democratic or Republican, these are American priorities. And what you’ve got in Congress, instead, is a group of people that seems almost wholly incapable of getting anything done,” he said.

In a decision that is already proving controversial — blog posts and comments have piled up this week questioning its wisdom — Romanoff said he plans to run this campaign the same way he did his campaign for the Senate, by refusing to take PAC money to finance what could be one of the most expensive contests in the state next year.

“That’s up to the voters,” he said. “We’re going to make our case one door at a time, one donor at a time, and try to build the resources, both grassroots troops we need and financial resources we need to make our case.” He also predicted that a good number of the 1,000 volunteers who worked on his Senate campaign would lend a hand again this time.

“I ran for the statehouse four times, one of the things I really enjoyed was being able to meet folks face-to-face, door-to-door,” Romanoff said. “The stakes are a little higher and the cover charge is a little steeper for the U.S. House of Representatives, but I think it’s possible to run a grassroots campaign.”

Coffman squeaked out a 2-point win — a margin of just under 7,000 votes out of 342,891 total votes cast — in November in the newly configured, Aurora-based 6th Congressional District over state Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, the one-time Romanoff protégée who had started running for the seat months before the district’s final lines were known. The district’s voters, residing in portions of Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties, are nearly evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters, a marked shift from its earlier incarnations as a reliably Republican seat.

The Democratic House Majority PAC last week listed Coffman among its top 10 targets for the 2014 election, along with former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and other Republicans who get liberal blood boiling.
Romanoff is a senior advisor with Lakewood-based International Development Enterprises, a non-profit organization that works to distribute low-cost technology to developing countries. He has taught government at the Community College of Aurora, the University of Colorado, Metropolitan State College of Denver and Red Rocks Community College, and has a law degree from the University of Denver.

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, a Yuma Republican, kicked off Coffman’s campaign efforts this week with a fundraising letter to supporters, noting that the highly targeted race is going to be costly. Both candidates are starting basically from scratch on that front, since Coffman spent everything he raised in the last election and Romanoff — who sold his Washington Park bungalow to finance his Senate campaign — owes himself a big chunk of change from the 2010 election but is under no obligation to repay himself.

Through the end of 2012, Coffman reported raising $3,441,283 and spending a little more than that, leaving his campaign committee owing $36,224, with $7,833 cash on hand. Miklosi reported raising $1,714,752 and finished with $97,570 cash left over at the end of the year. In the 2010 Senate primary, Romanoff reported raising $2,597,969, including a $325,000 loan to himself. At the end of 2012, he reported that the campaign committee still owes the candidate $250,000.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com