Colorado’s 6th Congressional District was redrawn in 2011, making this year’s race one of the most dynamic and closely watched in the country. Historically, this was a safely Republican seat, occupied during the early ’00s by conservative Republican Tom Tancredo. In 2008, when Tancredo was otherwise engaged in what ended up being a failed presidential bid, then-Secretary of State Mike Coffman swooped in and picked up the seat. In that election and 2010, Coffman handily won the district with more than 60 percent of the vote.
But shortly after Coffman won re-election in 2010, the district was redrawn in accordance with the latest U.S. Census. Partly because of Denver’s swelling population, the 6th shrank and edged northward. Now, it includes the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area — shedding its conservative strongholds in Douglas and Elbert counties (though retaining Highlands Ranch) and picking up the more Democratic western parts of Arapahoe and Adams counties.
So when Coffman was up for re-election in 2012, he found himself running in a different district. He held on, narrowly edging Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi in a year when President Barack Obama carried the district by a five-point margin. But as Obama’s popularity waned, it became clear that this once-certain seat is in play.
Enter Andrew Romanoff. As former speaker of the Colorado House who led a formidable primary challenge from the left of Sen. Michael Bennet, Romanoff had garnered a reputation as a rising young star in the Democratic Party. When he moved to Aurora in 2013 to take a stab at flipping the seat, the race entered the spotlight not just in the Colorado political sphere but nationally, where it’s being called the tightest in the country.
Throughout the campaign, the candidates have traded punches on immigration reform — a highly pertinent issue in a district that’s about 20 percent Latino and home to sizable African and Asian immigrant populations. Both candidates have skeletons in their respective closets on this one: Romanoff for his hand in shepherding through a set of anti-immigration laws that thoroughly angered the Latino community in 2006, and Coffman for the hypocrisy of claiming to support comprehensive immigration reform after years of holding a much more hard-line stance.
Recently, they put their Spanish-language chops to the test in the first-ever American political debate not in English.
The 6th is a petri dish for all sorts for other political issues of the moment. Romanoff has tried to pin Coffman for not supporting equal pay for women and access to contraceptives and abortion, and for not believing in climate science. Coffman, for his part, has tried to tether Romanoff to the generally unpopular national Democrats and paint him as a pretentious and sleazy opportunist. “I served in the Army and Marine Corps; Romanoff went to Harvard and Yale,” Coffman said to a crowd of supporters at a rally last week. “So who do you want to represent you?”
In the final days of the campaign, polling showed the two are neck-and-neck. Gobs of money pouring into the race have the airwaves flooded with icky attack ads produced out-of-state. Still, the hustle on the ground is a reminder that elections are decided by who here in the district actually shows up.