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Politics and Government

Women who vote: They’ve shown their might, now they want results in the 6th Congressional District

In the GOP stronghold of Douglas County, Democrat Jason Crow has this in his corner: Suburban women are fired up over President Trump -- and they’ve assembled

Jason Crow talks with a voter in Highlands Ranch on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Marvin Anani, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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HIGHLANDS RANCH — Nanette Gamily is opening her front door for the next woman to arrive as Diane Faut, standing in Gamily’s kitchen, pours white wine into clear plastic cups.

The dozen or so women gathered on a Thursday night know each other from book club, monthly bunco game nights or through their kids’ schools. Almost none of them cared much about politics until the night President Donald Trump was elected, or at least not as passionately as they do now.

For some, the first political activism of their lives came when they helped overturn the Douglas County School Board last year, rallying for a slate of progressive candidates who put an end to the district’s controversial private-school voucher program. Now they know how to assemble, and they’ve moved beyond local politics.

The women are waiting for Jason Crow, a Democrat who supports banning assault weapons and strengthening neighborhood schools and is trying to unseat five-term Republican Congressman Mike Coffman.

Jason Crow speaks to a mostly female audience at a Highlands Ranch home earlier this month. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)

They lean left in a suburban community where Republicans far outnumber Democrats. And after banding together through political rants on group texts and painting the back windows of their SUVs with the names of school board candidates, they’re hosting wine-and-cheese parties to support their candidate for Congress.

“Don’t piss off the soccer moms because they will rally,” said Faut, who was a registered Republican until switching to unaffiliated about a year ago.

She became politically active after her children’s elementary school went through five principals in about four years, the result of conflict between school leaders and the former board.

For Democrats to see a blue wave in November, it will take the women at this party and thousands like them across the nation, a new generation of female activists spurred by Trump’s presidency. They’ve shown their might at women’s marches, mobilized for safer schools and run for office in record numbers. Now they want results.

Gamily hosted the party for Crow this month after hearing him speak at another Highlands Ranch home in June. She was tired of ranting about politics — to her family, her friends, her book club — and not taking action.

“I am no longer going to sit down and shut up,” said Gamily, a mom and former software executive who now is a consultant. “We can’t just sit by anymore and let this happen to us.”

The 6th Congressional District, which also includes Adams and Arapahoe counties, is among the most competitive in the nation. The district has never picked a Democrat, but it is turning bluer every year and now consists of about one-third Republicans, one-third Democrats and one-third unaffiliated voters.

Douglas County, though, is the only county in the 6th District that remains red. It has twice as many Republicans as Democrats.

The last two of Coffman’s challengers, former state Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff in 2014 and former state Senate President Morgan Carroll in 2016, collected only about 33 percent of the votes in Douglas County. That was just 16,000 votes for Romanoff and 20,000 for Carroll.

Crow knows those numbers, and his campaign’s success or failure may depend on whether he can shift them to his favor.

Attendees of a Jason Crow campaign event, including many mothers pushing for tighter gun laws, where former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords appeared in Aurora on Sept. 20, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

He walks into Gamily’s party 15 minutes early, wearing jeans and a blazer. He accepts an offer of water, cracks a joke about how he should lay off the wine until after he takes questions. The women, and a couple of men, line the living room sofas as Crow stands in front of Gamily’s flatscreen television and notes that he — unlike Coffman or his three previous Democratic challengers — is a parent. His children are 5 and 8.

He tells them about the time his daughter came home from school after an active-shooter drill and said, “Daddy, I had to hide in a dark closet today in case a bad guy came for me.”  Crow, a former Army Ranger and first-time candidate, mentions that he grew up hunting but never used an AR-15 assault rifle to shoot a deer. He supports banning military-style assault weapons, and his stance on gun control is one of the main reasons these women are backing him.

“When there is a fire drill now we all wonder whether it’s an active shooter,” Crow said. “Enough is enough.”

The small crowd asks Crow about mental health care, health insurance and whether he’s worried about the negative campaign ads about him. But the universal concerns among the group are decreasing school violence and improving the education system.

This up-close chat with candidate Crow is the converse of the politicking that has defined this race — the constant barrage of television ads, mostly from outside political groups. This district has seen $14 million in ads so far — $1 million in one week — and more are coming soon.

The direct pitch, delivered in living rooms, backyards and community centers, is more important than ever to energize newcomers in politics.

Jason Crow, standing, the Democrat trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, speaks to attendees of an Arapahoe County Indivisible gathering in August 2018. Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun

And if Crow is going to win, he needs the female vote.

A New York Times/Siena College poll of the 6th District showed Crow with an 11-point lead, well outside of the survey’s 4.8 percent margin of error. But his advantage is most evident when it comes to women. He holds a 20-point lead over Coffman among women who answered the poll, 55 percent to 35 percent. Among men, though, the two candidates are tied.

MORE: In his toughest political battle yet, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is trying to navigate his way to another re-election against growing headwinds

Crow, in an interview with The Colorado Sun, said his numerous house party visits in Highlands Ranch aren’t just an attempt to pick up a respectable number of votes in a GOP stronghold. “I think we are going to win Douglas County,” he said.

Coffman’s campaign manager, however, said Highlands Ranch will again back the congressman because of his track record as socially tolerant and fiscally responsible, which connects “with anyone who runs a family budget.” Women in the district may not like Trump, but that doesn’t impact Coffman’s popularity — Coffman outperformed Trump in Highlands Ranch by 20 percentage points in 2016, campaign manager Tyler Sandberg said.

It’s true some women have turned their backs on the Republican Party because of their “disgust and distaste” with the president’s tone, especially regarding immigrants and women, Sandberg said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, left, poses for a photos outside of St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Aurora in July. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

But Coffman’s base knows he is “inclusive and tolerant,” and behaves “in a way that leaders behave,” he said.

When Coffman meets with moms in Douglas County, he can mention his sponsorship of federal legislation introduced this month that would expand Colorado’s Safe2Tell program, an anonymous tip line to report threats of school violence.

He also connects with women voters through his support of small-businesses, including female entrepreneurs, and as co-sponsor of federal legislation to protect pregnant workers, Sandberg said.  

Regarding gun laws, Coffman is focused on solutions that “respect the constitution,” Sandberg said.

The issue of guns is an important one in this district, according to the latest poll numbers.

The New York Times/Siena College poll found 63 percent of voters in the 6th support a “federal ban on the sale of assault-style guns and high-capacity magazines.”

Earlier this summer, Highlands Ranch residents — again mostly women — filled up a back room inside the town’s Douglas County Library branch for a chance to meet Crow. Before he arrived, organizers from the gun-safety group Moms Demand Action taught the audience how to canvass for Crow and other “gun-sense” candidates.

If the person answers the door, don’t mention the opponent and don’t argue, said Karin Asensio, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action and Indivisible Highlands Ranch. If no one is home, leave a Crow postcard with a personalized note signed, “your neighbor,” she suggested.

The Highlands Ranch chapter of Indivisible, a nationwide progressive group that started after Trump’s election, has bloomed to about 400 members, mostly moms. “We were always here, but we were asleep,” Asensio said. “We don’t call Highlands Ranch the bubble for no reason.”

Highlands Ranch resident Jenny Guenther, who hosted a meet-and-greet for Crow at her house in February, is among those who got political the moment Trump was elected.“I woke up a new person,” she said. “I could not be passive anymore.”

Guenther set out on foot to canvass for Crow this summer, the first time she’s knocked on doors for a candidate — even though her mom has run for the Colorado House three times.

Gamily, who has lived in Highlands Ranch for nearly 20 years, said she can feel the politics shifting, ever so slightly. She chalks it up to newcomers with diverse viewpoints moving into Highlands Ranch, especially younger families. People under 40 have a different mindset than those over 50, she said.

Douglas County now has 107,000 Republicans, 49,500 Democrats and 91,500 voters unaffiliated with either party. That’s a 48 percent increase in Republicans since 2004, compared with an 88 percent increase in Democrats and a 123 percent increase in unaffiliated voters.

Jason Crow, right, talks with voters in Highlands Ranch on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Marvin Anani, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Gamily and other liberal Highlands Ranch women have sought out like-minded friends, building groups where it’s safe to vent. The women who hosted Crow at Gamily’s house last week were careful about whom to invite to the party, not wanting to alienate other moms from school pickup or neighbors they know from the pool or cul-de-sac parties.

In their neighborhoods, it’s still easier to keep politics out of casual conversation, to leave the Hillary Clinton T-shirts in the drawer.

Penny Lynch, who said she is a “Capital D,” as opposed to a moderate Democrat, is a Crow supporter but watches what she says to Highlands Ranch neighbors and friends she doesn’t know well enough to know their politics. “I still feel like I have to hide,” she said.

What happens if  — after all the marches, painted car windows and house parties — there isn’t a blue wave this November, and if, closer to home, Crow doesn’t unseat Coffman?

“You keep fighting,” said Lynch, a mom of three girls. “I don’t know if it will ever end. You are always going to have the Donald Trumps of the world. We don’t ever stop, and we raise our daughters to be fighters too.”

Rising Sun