Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is seeking his sixth term in Congress this year and is facing what’s likely to be the most challenging re-election campaign in his decades in politics.
The 63-year-old Aurora native had held a wide variety of public offices, from state lawmaker, to Colorado treasurer and secretary of state, and since 2009 Congress. In recent years, he has worked to position himself as a strong moderate voice willing to push back against his party — and President Donald Trump — on behalf of his constituents.
Coffman’s opponent, Democrat Jason Crow, is working hard to tie Coffman to Trump and paint him as unable to get legislation passed that benefits the 6th District.
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
Coffman served tours in both of America’s Iraq wars as part of his military career, which spanned the Army and Marines.
In fact, he dropped out of high school at 17 to join the Army on a path that took him back to the Centennial State and on to the University of Colorado for college.
Here are some things to know about the candidate:
Coffman was born in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (his father was in the military, too) but grew up in Aurora. At age 17, in 1972, he dropped out of Aurora Central High School to join the Army and follow in the footsteps of his dad.
“Besides the fact that I was a miserable student — just wasn’t focused — my father never graduated from high school,” Coffman said. “I saw my parents were successful. … I just thought, ‘What’s the point? They didn’t do it.’”
He was sent to Germany, where he completed his studies while serving.
In 1979 he graduated from the University of Colorado and transferred his military affiliation from the Army to the Marines. He also started a property management business in Aurora.
In 1988 he ran and was elected to the Colorado House, where he served until 1990 when he took a leave of absence to voluntarily return to active duty and fight in the first Gulf War.
In 1994, he was elected to the Colorado Senate before running and being elected to two terms as Colorado’s state treasurer in 1998 and 2002. He resigned as state treasurer in 2005 to rejoin the Marines and fight in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2006 he was appointed by then-Colorado Gov. Bill Owens to be Colorado’s secretary of state. In 2008 he was elected to his first U.S. House term.
Coffman was married to current Republican Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman until last year, when they split after 12 years.
“Nothing that I have that I have to live with”
Coffman says he experienced a lot during his deployments with the military, but he said he was spared from the pain and suffering he saw his comrades go through.
“I was very lucky that I was never injured,” he said. “‘I’m really fortunate that there’s nothing that I have — that I have to live with — that keeps me up at night.”
He remembers in 1982 he was positioned on a ship off the coast of Lebanon as part of a contingency force in case unrest there boiled over.
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“We never went ashore,” he said. “We were there to evacuate, in case things became too hot, the U.S embassy and any civilians or foreign nationals.”
He rotated out of the region, and then in October of 1983 the Marine barracks in Lebanon were bombed and more than 300 people died.
“The sad thing about it a lot of the people I worked with, including my replacement, wound up getting killed,” he said.
Toughest moment in Congress
Coffman says his toughest moment in Congress came in the spring of 2017 when lawmakers were debating whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
He was facing pressure from his party — including Trump — to support legislation unwinding President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. He voted “no” over concerns about protections for pre-existing conditions being taken away.
“We absolutely do need to get it done,” Coffman said of repealing Obamacare and putting . “I just disagreed with the bill that was there.”
He says he wants to see a bipartisan solution to health care in the end. (Coffman has voted for repealing Obamacare over and over again in the past and has laos campaigned on unraveling the law and replacing it with something else.)
“When the Affordable Care Act passed, it was only Democrats who supported it,” he said. “When this bill (the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare) passed, it was only Republicans. And that has to stop.”
Comments about Obama being “not an American”
In 2012, Coffman was at the center of a major controversy when he suggested during an Elbert County fundraiser that he didn’t know if Obama was born in the U.S.
“I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America,” he said. “I don’t know that. But I do know this: that in his heart he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.”
MORE: Get to know Jason Crow, the Democrat running in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District
Coffman later apologized for the remarks.
He also addressed the comments more recently in 2016 in an interview with 9News.
“First of all, I was wrong. It was boneheaded,” he told the Denver television news station. “I thought it was a private conversation I was having. It was taped. That’s no excuse.”
He added: “It was a mistake.”
His parents’ backstory
Coffman’s father was 15 years old when he lied about his age, joined the Navy and became the gunner on the back of a torpedo bomber. About a year later, his mother turned him in — only for Coffman’s father to join the Army at 16 and fight in the infamous Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.
Coffman’s father and mother met in China while Coffman’s father was serving in that country.
She was living in the French Concession in Shanghai when the Japanese occupied China. Eventually his parents landed in Colorado.
Coffman says he sees in Aurora’s immigrant community — which has been among his most loyal supporters — what he sees in his mother.
“Growing up in Aurora, my mother had such an appreciation for being an American,” Coffman said. “She is so appreciative of freedom ome because she knows that it’s like not to have it. I see that in these people. They are so grateful to be here — so appreciative of the opportunities to be here.”
He added, on his interactions with the immigrant community: “It’s been such an uplifting experience for me. I mean, I’m in a hard district — but I’m a better person for it. I’ve learned so much about other people. In this district, you have to reach out. You don’t have a choice but to reach across the aisle, not just in Washington but here. That has been such an extraordinary thing for me personally, in getting to know so many people. It’s been fun.”
More reading on Coffman
— After marriage, bride bids Coffman farewell— The Denver Post, May, 23, 2005
— Will Democrats take the House? Watch this district. It has everything. — CNN, Sept. 26, 2018
— Rep. Mike Coffman says principle guided shifts on several issues — The Denver Post, Oct. 11, 2014
— A Congressman Slighted Immigrants, Then Embraced Them. Now He Runs From Trump. — The New York Times, Aug. 8, 2016