Littwin: National GOP giving up on Coffman, but do CD-6 voters still believe?

Jason Crow and Mike Coffman at a candidate forum in Denver on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (Photo by Rachel Lorenz for The Colorado Independent)

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.


  1. It isn’t magic how Coffman survived so long in CD-6. Besides of course being a good enough chameleon to hide his out-of-the-mainstream Trumpian views, Coffman could always count on the vet vote. There are a lot of current and former active duty military members in CD-6 due to the installations there.

    Guess what happened this year? The Dems finally wised up and ran a vet too…which nullified that consistent Republican advantage. You mix that mathematical leveling with the most unpopular President* in history and it’s a big batch of gtfo cookies for Coffman.

    Two weeks out and it’s getting weird. As Mike points out…there’s a big disconnect between Trump’s rhetoric and the truth on migrant caravans, sanctuary city “mobs” and tortured journalists. The main message, however, is Fear. Being Halloween, I’m full up on bs boogeyman tales.

    Even longtime Republicans have been publicly calling for less lying as the reality that the EC ain’t going to save the day and
    enable the tyrant of the minority to go unfettered any longer.

    In the meantime the ignorance-enabled Liar in Chief illustrates why the Dunning-Kruger effect is alive and well on the right.

    Reminds me of a line from Hemingway…

    “There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.”

    The time has come.

  2. Coffman’s main promise was he would stand up to Trump. And on a few issues, he has taken a stand with those who voted against the Trump endorsed position (and the Republican majority). But those positions still passed the Republican-controlled House, indicating Coffman was either tepid or ineffective in his opposition. And on a few issues, Coffman has called for the Trump Sad!-ministration to do more than it has (Saudi Arabia) or less than it has (separating families at the border).

    But to the best of my reading, Coffman has not made a single immediate response to any of the multitude of Trump lies. No Coffman reaction to the Trump rallies with the “lock her up” chants. He threatened a discharge petition for DACA legislation, then abandoned that stance. So where has he stood up to Trump?

  3. There is a sense that Coffman is sneaky. He sneaked out of the back door of the building where he was finally holding a Town Hall where hundreds of his constituents still waited to ask questions. On the last “Get Rid of Obama Care” vote in Congress (the one that John McCain defeated with his historic “thumbs down” in the Senate) Coffman was apparently waiting, reportedly considering how he should vote, although he’d voted against Obama Care many times before. Finally he voted no, after he was sure there were enough yes votes for the motion to pass in Congress, an he’d get credit from constituents and not make Republicans too mad.. He lied in ads saying Crow had missed so many meetings of a group trying to bring the new VA hospital to Aurora, indicating Crow was anti-veteran, when in fact he’d helped veterans galore adjust to civilian life and played a big role in the hospital endeavor. (Even the Denver Post called out Coffman on that!) He’s pro-life. He waffles on Immigration though 19.5 percent of his constituents were born in other countries, and instead of stating his views of how he differs from Trump on that issue, he tells that bathetic story, which I’ve heard before, about the little Peruvian girl he saved instead of giving a true summing-up statement in his recent debate. In one of Crow’s ads a time-honored veteran says, “We need younger leadership,” and I ‘m hoping Co6 will see it that way, too.

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