I know better than to believe — I mean, really, truly, from-deep-in-my-gut believe — that Mike Coffman is going to lose his CD-6 seat in Congress.
Sure, it looks like he’s going to lose, but haven’t we been here before? Haven’t we seen the five-term incumbent facing the best the Democrats could throw at him in races that were for months seen as toss-ups, only for him to win handily in the end?
Well, yes. We’ve seen it repeatedly.
So, why would the answer possibly be no this time?
Ask the national Republicans. This isn’t Democratic wishful thinking. This is hard-headed decision-making by the guys who are paid handsomely to make these decisions. In the home stretch, with two weeks to go, Republicans are allocating their money where it can be most effective, which does not seem to be in backing Coffman even though he holds a seat in a must-win district. First, a Paul Ryan-linked Super PAC took back a million bucks for TV ads. Then, just last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has spent $2.1 million on Coffman, dumped him in the home stretch, taking back another million.
These guys know Coffman’s story. They know he’s the ultimate escape artist. They knows he’s the Colorado Democrats’ white whale. They know he keeps winning in a Dem-leaning district that Hillary Clinton won easily. They know that in dealing with a diverse community, Coffman is one of the rare Republicans to have made that work.
But they also know Donald Trump’s terrible numbers in Colorado and Coffman’s tough road in dealing with those numbers and with Trump himself.
The New York Times/Siena College pollsters have come to the district twice to check the progress there. In the first, upstart Democrat Jason Crow led Coffman by 10 points. In the second, just a week ago, Crow was ahead by 9.
There’s polling and then there’s history. Yes, it’s clear that history rarely applies to Trump. If it did, he wouldn’t be able to get away with tarring the caravan of Central Americans from violence-torn countries as not only including “bad people,” but also “unknown Middle Easterners.” It’s a three-fer for Trump — bad Latinos, scary terrorists and, I guess, George Soros. Yes, Trump keeps saying the marchers are being paid to make the trip by Democrats, which always means Soros. The absurdist implication here is that terrorists/cartel gang members have decided to attack America by first marching 1,500 miles — alongside many hundreds of crying children. Or maybe they’re just coming for the imaginary 10% tax cut.
It’s the worst kind of demagoguery, even worse than Trump’s insistence at his rallies that the residents of so-called sanctuary cities in California are rioting. Do you see why these might be problems for Coffman? No one covering the caravan has seen any Middle Easterners. No one living in California has seen any sanctuary-city rioting. In America, even in Trump’s America, you can pretty much leave a city if you prefer. It’s not like, say, MBS’ Saudi Arabia. Not yet, anyway.
But history does say that if you’re the president and your approval ratings are below 50 percent, your party is going to get crushed in the midterms. Donald Trump has climbed to 43 percent approval — a number I can’t quite believe — but the polls are the polls. But at 43 percent, Republicans would, historically, lose at least 30 seats. Nate Silver’s 538 model comes up with a predicted average loss of 40 seats. The same model says Democrats, who need to gain 23 seats, have a six in seven chance of taking the House. Not everyone is quite as convinced. Cook Political Report has it at 75 percent. The Economist has it at 71 percent.
In any case, the math says it’s likely but hardly a sure thing. And if mostly sure things always won, we wouldn’t have President Donald Trump, and half the nation wouldn’t be suffering from PTSD.
So, here’s Coffman’s problem. He says he’s the Republican who will stand up to Trump. And he has, to an extent. He has called out Trump repeatedly, just recently on Saudi Arabia. Don’t be confused by the 96 percent of the time that Coffman has voted with Trump. Most of those votes are meaningless. But some of them aren’t. In fact, a lot of them aren’t. Coffman is a true conservative Republican and one who once called Tom Tancredo his “hero” and one who was once caught on tape saying Barack Obama wasn’t an American in his heart.
Even if you think Coffman has stood up to Trump on immigration, on health care (but only after standing and voting with repeal-Obamacare Republican leadership for years), on Trump’s Trumpiness, he is still a Republican whose re-election would help keep the House in Republican hands. The Republican House, whether or not Coffman is a member, is a rubber stamp for a world in which Trump, the self-described nationalist, dines with dictators and tries to make excuses for Saudi Arabians taking a bone saw to a Washington Post columnist. It’s being part of a House that wants to diminish Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security.
A vote for Jason Crow, meanwhile, is a vote to take the House from the Republicans, and that’s something that a vote for Coffman can’t do. In fact, that’s the entire election. Do the voters in the 6th CD want a Democratic House or a Republican House? Which one would possibly rein in Trump?
The campaign is ugly, as you’d expect. The TV ads are nonstop, as you’d expect. The money is huge, as you’d expect. But here is something that maybe you wouldn’t expect: I was talking to a plugged-in Republican the other day who thinks that Crow — the well-spoken combat veteran/lawyer/political newcomer — is the best candidate the Democrats have thrown at Coffman. The thinking goes this way. In 2014, Andrew Romanoff was still stained by his loss to Michael Bennet in the 2010 Senate primary. In 2016, Morgan Carroll was perceived as too liberal for the district. The Democrat who came closest was Joe Miklosi, who came within two points of Coffman back in 2012.
“We live in a very different political environment than we lived in two years ago,” Crow told me the other day. (Coffman’s camp didn’t respond to a request for an interview.)
Crow says Coffman has positioned himself as a Republican politician who could challenge Trump from within the party structure. “His No. 1 campaign promise was that if Donald Trump was elected president, he would stand up to him,” Crow said. “That’s the promise he was elected on. And he’s failed to live up to that.”
The truth is, I don’t see how Coffman could possibly have lived up to it. Congressional Republicans have failed entirely in standing up to Trump. It’s Trump’s party, and Coffman, whatever he thinks of Trump, is running as a card-carrying member of that party. If Coffman can work his way around that — and history says we shouldn’t count him out — he truly would be one of the great political escape artists of our time.