Coffman, Romanoff rally supporters in highly competitive CD 6 race

The Colorado Statesman

The two candidates in what some observers have already pegged the most competitive congressional race in the country this year — and likely the most expensive — encouraged supporters and previewed their campaigns at rallies last weekend in Aurora.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, the Republican incumbent, and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, his Democratic challenger, each sought to portray the other as too extreme for the solidly purple 6th Congressional District, which covers suburbs south and east of Denver and is nearly evenly split between Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters.

Coffman, seeking a fourth term representing the seat, won by a narrower-than-expected 2-point margin over a little-known Denver Democrat in 2012 even as President Barack Obama carried the district. Romanoff resisted national Democrats who urged him to run for the seat in 2012 but jumped into the race a year ago. Both are unopposed for their party’s nomination.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, outlines differences between himself and Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff at a volunteer rally on Feb. 22 at his campaign headquarters in Aurora.
Photo by courtesy of Coffman campaign

Speaking to roughly 200 volunteers gathered on Saturday afternoon at his campaign headquarters on Parker Road, Coffman left no doubt that he’s running as much against the specter of a Democratic-controlled House as he is his nominal opponent.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman answers questions from supporters as campaign manager Tyler Sandberg looks on at a campaign rally on Feb. 22 in Aurora.

“Nancy Pelosi cannot return to being the Speaker of the House without winning this district, so she has hand-picked Speaker Romanoff to move into this district to run against me,” Coffman said. (Romanoff, who represented a central Denver House district for four terms, moved to Aurora last February, shortly before launching his campaign.)

Nancy Griffin and Jim Parker are all smiles at a rally for U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s campaign in Aurora.

“Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Romanoff want to take us back to what they call ‘the good ol’ days,’ when Democrats controlled all of the levers of power in Washington and were able to cram through legislation, like Obamacare, without a single Republican vote,” Coffman continued. “We cannot let that happen again.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman talks with supporters at a rally at the Republican’s campaign headquarters.

Lest there be any doubt, Coffman repeatedly called his opponent “Speaker Romanoff” and ticked off positions he said the Democrat and former House Speaker Pelosi share, including a fondness for tax increases, a belief that government regulation solves every problem and a belief that “every solution to every problem involves more spending, more borrowing, and more debt.” He also reminded the crowd that the website BringItPelosi.com is in fact a creation of the Coffman campaign

For his part, Romanoff on Sunday afternoon told roughly 500 supporters packed inside Dora’s Mexican Restaurant — about a mile down Parker Road from Coffman’s campaign headquarters — that he’s also running against a do-nothing Congress and the notion that government can’t solve any problems, both embodied by Coffman and the Tea Party movement the Republican used to embrace.

Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of the Colorado House, grasp hands at a rally for the Romanoff campaign on Feb. 23 at Dora’s Mexican Restaurant in Aurora.

“In the richest nation on the face of the earth, too many families are working harder than ever and falling further and further behind,” Romanoff said. “Now, some see these problems and shrug their shoulders. They tell us, government can do no good and shouldn’t even try. They take a dim and narrow view of America’s potential. We regard government neither as the solution to every problem nor as the source of all evil. We know there are some things we can do together,” he said, pointing to firefighting and infrastructure development as examples.

State Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, introduces Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff at a campaign rally on Feb. 23.

“Sharing our struggles and our grief and aspirations, that is in large measure what it means to be an American,” Romanoff said. He added, “When our Founders threw the first Tea Party, they were declaring independence from a king, not from one another.”

Mitch Wright and Myrna Maier visit at a rally for supporters of Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff.

“You are standing in the middle of the most competitive, the most important race in the United States of America,” declared former Interior Secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, before exhorting the crowd that “It’s time for the 6th Congressional District to trade up.” Salazar noted that he knew Coffman well — he was attorney general while Coffman was treasurer and served briefly with him in Congress, later testifying before Coffman’s committee when he was a member of the Obama Cabinet.

Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Jackson and Romanoff campaign worker Debbie Fischer enjoy the festivities at a rally for Andrew Romanoff’s congressional campaign at Dora’s Mexican Restaurant in Aurora.

“One of the things we have going on our side is that we have the Tea Party on the other side. And no matter how you cut it, Andrew’s opponent is part of that Tea Party,” Salazar continued, hammering Coffman for referring to Social Security as “a Ponzi scheme,” for calling the DREAM Act “a nightmare” and for calling Obama un-American.

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar poses for a snapshot with Belle Gallegos, left, and Dora Hermann, owner of Dora’s Mexican Restaurant, site of a fundraiser and rally for Andrew Romanoff’s congressional campaign on Feb. 23 in Aurora.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“What makes a difference is that we send somebody to Washington who can really go there to make a difference, who isn’t satisfied with essentially being obstructionist and blocking everything from happening in that House of Representatives,” Salazar concluded.

Romanoff stepped to the microphone a second time to say that former state Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, who died in December, should have given the rally’s closing remarks. Calling Gordon “one of the most honorable and principled statesmen Colorado has ever sent to public office,” Romanoff said that his mentor would have reminded the crowd that Romanoff’s is the only competitive congressional campaign to refuse donations from political action committees. “It is a difficult decision,” Romanoff added, “but I think it is the right one.”

Despite warnings from supporters that refusing PAC donations would handicap his campaign, Romanoff narrowly outraised Coffman during the most recent fundraising quarter, with both campaigns posting more than $2 million in 2013. Romanoff had roughly $1.6 million on hand at the end of the year, while Coffman reported $1.4 million in the bank. Both campaigns say they’re about halfway to the total they’ll need to raise for the race and acknowledge that the candidates’ coffers will almost certainly be dwarfed by outside spending in the contest, estimated at an additional $12 million by national observers.

The campaigns agree on at least one other thing: both sides say they’d be glad if Obama visited the district to campaign for Romanoff, though both anticipate the president might swing voters in opposite directions.

Pointing to a December poll of voters in 11 battleground congressional districts — including Colorado’s 6th CD — the Coffman campaign notes that a solid majority wants its congressional representative to serve as a check to Obama’s policy agenda, underlining the incumbent’s relative unpopularity reported in the survey. The poll was conducted by the conservative YG Network, which last election spent millions in support of Republican congressional candidates, but nonpartisan polls have also reported that Obama’s support is underwater in Colorado.

Asked by The Colorado Statesman if he’d welcome a campaign stop by Obama, Romanoff replied simply, “Sure.”

Even though Obama won the 6th District in 2012, Coffman campaign manager Tyler Sandberg said Republicans have the advantage this year.

“The Obama energy has faded,” he said. “Obama has proven to be more flash in the pan than substance and has left the (Democratic) base dispirited.”

Sandberg said the campaign has found strong support for Coffman well “beyond the Republican base.” The campaign, he said, has been flooded with volunteers who don’t want a return to the days when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. “Independents are very distrustful of Nancy Pelosi’s leadership and remember well her failed leadership couple years ago.”

“What you see from the opposition is an attempt to distract voters from the priorities they want us to focus on,” Romanoff told The Statesman. “There’s an old Arabic saying — the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. I’m going to continue to take the approach that I did in the Statehouse, which is to bring Democrats and Republicans together to solve problems.”

Chuckling, and pointing out that he was mixing canine metaphors, Romanoff added, “It sounds like that’s a campaign strategy cooked up somewhere in the Washington Beltway, but that dog won’t hunt here.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com