DENVER, CO – A race that was supposed to be competitive may be slowly slipping away from Colorado Democrats. In the 6th Congressional district, the boundaries that were drawn in redistricting were meant to make the race winnable for either party, but due to a weaker than expected Democratic candidate and the strength of the Republican incumbent, the race is moving away from toss-up status and into safer territory for incumbent GOP Congressman Mike Coffman.
The race is currently a battle between state Representative Joe Miklosi (D-Denver) and Congressman Coffman. Spinal surgeon Dr. Perry Haney was running in the Democratic primary against Miklosi last year, but dropped out in early February, saying he couldn’t afford the time away from his medical practice.
Other Democrats’ names have been floated throughout the last year, including former US Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver), Senate Majority Leader John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Senate President Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont), whom The Denver Post reported polled the district to determine his chances. Shaffer ultimately elected to continue his campaign in the 4th Congressional district.
The long list of potential candidates was largely a result of a newly-drawn district that offered Democrats the best chance at winning the seat since it was created three decades ago.
During redistricting, the process of drawing new Congressional district lines every 10 years to account for population changes identified in the US Census, the 6th Congressional district went from being a safe Republican seat to a competitive district.
In 2010, incumbent Congressman Mike Coffman won with nearly 2/3 of the vote in the old district, but the new district has a voter registration breakdown nearly identical to Colorado itself – 34% Republican, 32% Democratic and 33% Unaffiliated.
The newly-drawn district was won by Obama by 8 points in 2008.
Such a vast change in voter registration gave Democrats an initial boost of enthusiasm, but that momentary joy seems to be fleeting away with every passing week.
While the race remains on a list of 10 US House races deemed “Pure Toss-up” by the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, a number of events have moved conventional wisdom towards a likely Coffman victory.
“It definitely leans Republican,” said Colorado political analyst Floyd Ciruli.
Noting Coffman’s superior fundraising advantage and his history of winning races in tough years, like the 2006 Secretary of State race, Ciruli said that while the race is likely to be targeted by Democrats nationally, it is not a dead even split.
“Coffman is the stronger candidate.”
In a sign of Coffman’s strength, earlier this week The Denver Post reported that Democratic mega-donors Steve Farber and Norman Brownstein of the powerhouse law firm Brownstein, Farber, Hyatt, & Schreck were co-hosting a fundraiser for Coffman. Farber has been one of the more influential Democratic donors in Colorado, including heading up the effort to raise $50 million for the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008.
Farber had given Coffman $250 last year, but his decision to co-host a fundraiser for Coffman marked a new point in the struggle for Miklosi to get big donors on his side.
Colorado Democratic Party Executive Director Alec Garnett tried to downplay the defection, by pointing out that Farber had also backed losing GOP Gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.
But political blogs in the state were decidedly downbeat about what it meant to Miklosi’s campaign.
The liberal blog, Colorado Pols, said “For Farber to make this decision this early is a pretty good indicator that Miklosi is rapidly losing the perception battle among those who write the big checks.”
Conservative blog, Colorado Peak Politics, referencing Miklosi’s low fundraising totals from 2011, called Farber’s defection “adding insult to injury.”
Fundraising between Miklosi and Coffman has been one of the clearest differences in the race. With no public polling and no past history of the brand-new district, observers are left with little else to judge the race objectively.
At the end of 2011, Coffman reported having nearly a million dollars in cash on hand, having pulled in over $400,000 in the final quarter of 2011. Coffman is expected to report another $400,000 plus haul for the first quarter of 2012.
Miklosi, by comparison, raised $104,000 in the final quarter of 2011, for a total of $173,00 cash on hand.
Other Democratic Congressional challengers in Colorado have fared better in the fundraising department despite steeper climbs in voter registration.
State Representative Sal Pace, challenging Congressman Scott Tipton in the 3rd district, had $341,000 as of the end of 2011. Senate President Brandon Shaffer, running against Congressman Cory Gardner in the 4th district, had $165,000 cash on hand.
Coffman’s campaign clearly sees fundraising as an important vantage point from which to view the race.
“Congressman Coffman has broad support across the entire district and that’s why so many people are willing to step up and be a part of his campaign,” said Coffman’s Finance Director Kristin Strohm of The Starboard Group. “He is a prolific fundraiser. No one will out work him. And that work ethic pays off in more ways than just building campaign funding — Democrats and Republicans alike are stepping forward and saying that Mike is the right choice in this critical race.”
Despite this early fundraising gap, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) believes Coffman’s conservative voting record in a now more moderate district will make the race competitive as the election gets closer.
“Coloradans deserve better than Representative Mike Coffman’s record of failure and his radical agenda for Colorado,” said Stephen Carter, Regional Press Secretary for the DCCC. “After voting against seniors to end Medicare, calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, and his record of voting against Colorado’s middle class, Representative Mike Coffman’s new district will give him and his radical ideas the pink slip in November.”
A National Republican Congress Committee (NRCC) spokesman thinks Miklosi has plenty of legislative baggage himself.
“Miklosi is so extreme that he actually wants to continue Obamacare and its $500 billion cut to Medicare,” said Daniel Scarpinato, Western Regional Press Secretary for the NRCC. Coupled with his record of pushing higher taxes and unrestrained spending, it’s no wonder Miklosi was his own party’s third choice for this race.
Regardless of the state of the race now, which seems to be moving in Coffman’s direction, both candidates see a chance for victory and plan on fighting for every last vote.
“Since being elected I have worked to end the disregard for taxpayer dollars and help get America working again,” said Congressman Coffman. “My record of accomplishment in these areas is resonating with voters across the district and I look forward to working until the last ballot is cast to get my message out.”
“It’s obvious Mike Coffman is vulnerable in this new seat,” said Dean Meinen, Campaign Manager for Joe Miklosi for Congress. “We certainly hear people calling for change as we campaign door-to-door. Joe Miklosi has been able to clear the field and is working with Republicans, Democrats, and Unaffiliated voters who want to get America working again.”