U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is facing what’s likely to be his most challenging election yet as the five-term Aurora Republican battles Democrat Jason Crow in a year that’s looking tough for the GOP.
And in many ways, neither candidate is the race’s central figure. That role belongs to President Donald Trump.
To hold the district, Coffman must walk a careful line in his support for and pushback against the White House, while Crow, a Denver lawyer and first-time candidate, must make inroads with diverse communities in the 6th Congressional District who have long backed Coffman.
The race is likely to be among the most watched nationally.
That’s in part because voters in the suburban Denver district backed Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by wide margins in the 2012 and 2016 presidential races even while handing Coffman victories.
This year, however, looks even tougher for Coffman, with Trump-related heartburn for Republicans and polls signaling voters across the U.S. — especially Democrats and moderates — want to send a message on Nov. 6.
So here is where the two candidates stand on the issues:
On President Donald Trump
Coffman has worked to distance himself from Trump, starting with a 2016 campaign ad that said “I don’t care for him much.”
Since the election, he’s pushed back on several policies backed by the president and his administration, denouncing Trump aide Stephen Miller and calling the separation of immigrant families at the border “a horrible, horrible judgment call.”
He’s criticized the Oval Office on a range of other issues, too. That being said, Coffman has backed some administration moves — like the Trump-championed GOP tax cut — and is supportive of some of Trump’s cabinet, particularly his national security team. “I wish he would listen to them more,” Coffman said.
Democrats are trying to tie Coffman to Trump as closely as possible, highlighting his close alignment with Trump on bills the president has signed. (Coffman’s campaign says the link is misleading since the president doesn’t vote on legislation and some of those measures were on bipartisan issues.)
“My narrative is my own. It’s so very different from that of the president,” Coffman said. “I think I’m constantly defining myself not just different from the president, but different from the establishment in Washington, D.C., in general.”
Crow has made pushing back against Trump and his administration a key point in his campaign.
“I’m deeply troubled by Donald Trump,” Crow said. “I don’t think he represents the values of this country and this community. I’m appalled by many of his policies, from family separation to how he treats our allies overseas to his approach, or lack of commitment, to health care, to true immigration reform, to environmental protections. And, frankly, just outright corruption.”
But Crow isn’t fully embracing calls from some in his party to seek Trump’s impeachment — at least not yet. He says he wants to see what Special Counsel Robert Mueller digs up in his investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
“I’m in the rule-of-law camp,” he said. “As somebody who has taken several oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution, both when I was in the Army and later when I became a lawyer, I think we have to be very careful about how we approach this issue in that we not politicize it. We have to make sure, first and foremost, that we are defending Robert Mueller’s investigation — insulating it from political influence, and allowing that investigation to run its course.”
Coffman has taken a lot of flak from Democrats over the money and support he has received from the National Rifle Association. But the congressman says he’s been working on ways to prevent mass shootings by supporting so-called “red flag” legislation in Congress and meeting with school security officials in his district.
“I certainly support the Second Amendment,” Coffman said.
Coffman says he supports the right of Colorado lawmakers who in 2013 passed laws expanding background checks and limiting gun magazines to 15 rounds. On the latter, though, he said “the efficacy is questionable.”
Gun regulations are one of the main campaign talking points for Crow, who wants to see federal laws mandating universal background checks, magazine limitations, a red flag law and a ban on military and assault-style weapons.
He has won support from groups pushing for tighter controls on guns, like Giffords PAC, and the families of gun-violence victims.
“I encounter people who are afraid that Democrats are coming to take their guns,” he said. “That’s a narrative that the NRA has fed certain people in the community. It’s not true.”
On health care
When Republicans in Congress last year attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Coffman was on board with the premise (and still is).
Ultimately, however, when it came to voting for the GOP’s best chance at rolling back the signature health care law from former President Barack Obama, long a promise of conservatives, he was a “no” vote.
“The president, in fact, called me twice about it,” Coffman recalled. “The second time was 30 minutes before the vote. The first time he called me I said, ‘Mr. President I want to be with you, but there are some issues that I have with preexisting conditions that need to be addressed.’ He never quite addressed the issue, he always went off on a tangent.”
Coffman said when the second call came just before the vote, Trump was more forward, telling him: “Well, if you’re not going to vote for the bill, then just don’t show up.”
“I started laughing on the phone,” Coffman said. “I thought that was the funniest thing, craziest thing. Now that I reflect back on it after, you know, observing the president over the time he’s been in office, he was serious as a heart attack.”
“We need to have a Congress who is willing to preserve the Affordable Care Act,” Crow said. “… The Congress is clearly trying to do, in bits and pieces, what they couldn’t do last year.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that Crow doesn’t see problems with the health care law.
“That system isn’t working for a lot of folks,” he said. “Costs are rising way too fast (and) a lot of the individual markets are not stable enough and don’t have providers. We’re doing better in Colorado than most states. We at least have a provider, at least one, in every country.”
His solution is to create a federal, public health care option based on Medicare that will insert itself in the marketplace and compete with other providers.
“People like it,” he said of Medicare. “It’s fairly efficient. It’s been working well — it’s a proven system.”
Coffman has worked to position himself as a bipartisan leader on immigration issues given his diverse district. He is against people coming into the country illegally, but wants to see changes to the immigration system so that federal laws are “reasonable.”
“Our immigration system is so broken in every possible way,” Coffman says.
He has worked on bills to provide a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children who are protected from deportation under an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. (Trump unwound the initiative in 2017, but federal courts have kept it from going away.)
Coffman has also brought legislation seeking to provide a pathway to citizenship for Temporary Protected Status recipients, another program which has been undone under Trump.
“I don’t support illegal immigration,” he said. “We have to enforce our laws. We have to have reasonable laws to enforce.”
Immigration has been a major area where Coffman has been able to make major inroads with Aurora’s diverse communities.
Crow, like Coffman, is calling for comprehensive immigration reform, but says that it can’t happen as long as Republicans are in control of Congress.
“We need a path to citizenship and permanent residency for the undocumented folks who are here,” he said. “That’s work permits and a path to residency. We need to make sure we are bringing people out of the shadows. This is an economic issue as much as it is a human rights issue.”
On #abolishICE, a movement championed by the progressive wing of the Democratic party, Crow says he wants to take a broader approach.
“The issue is Donald Trump’s policies and what he is having certain government agencies do,” he said. “You can change the name of an agency and shuffle that around, but until you hold Donald Trump accountable and you have someone who is really willing to fight back against his policies, I don’t believe it’s going to address the underlying issue.”
The candidates’ military service
In 1972, at age 17, Coffman left Aurora Central High School and joined the Army. He served until 1974 and then joined the Army Reserve.
Coffman transferred to the Marine Corps in 1979 and he served as an infantry officer. He later joined the Marine Reserve and returned to active duty for the first Gulf War.
He retired from the military in 1994. He then volunteered to return to active duty in 2005 and deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom until 2006.
In college, Crow joined the Army ROTC and then became a part of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and deployed in the initial attack in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He then went on to serve in the U.S. Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment, serving two additional tours — this time in Afghanistan, as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, where Crow reached the rank of captain.
Crow left the military in 2006.
On House leadership
With House Speaker Paul Ryan stepping down from his post, Coffman says he likes Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the job.
“I think that they’ve been sensitive to members like myself,” he said. “… We’ve got to hold the majority first and then we’ll make those decisions.”
Crow says he wants to see a change in Democratic leadership in the House. “I will not support (Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi,” Crow said.
He declined, however, to say who he would like to see in the role.
“I’m not going to throw anyone out there, that’s their decision,” he said. “There’s a lot of really great leaders, frankly, that are in the House right now, people that I’ve got to know over the last 16-plus months.”
County clerks will begin sending out ballots on Oct. 15.
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