AURORA — Colorado’s high-stakes 6th Congressional District race took another negative turn Wednesday as Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Democrat Jason Crow attacked each other in their first fiery face-off since voters began to receive ballots.
And they kept it personal, picking apart campaign contributions, leadership abilities and past experiences. Policy platforms, for much of the debate, appeared to take a back seat.
The debate, filled with barbs lobbed at each other in person rather than by the proxy of news releases and harsh advertising, set into high gear what’s likely to be a fierce final weeks of the contest between two combat veterans.
Coffman, a five-term incumbent, mostly skipped the formality of a pitch to voters, opening the debate with an offensive run that set the tone for the 45-minute back-and-forth hosted by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce.
He commended Crow for his military service, but then snarked ”although I didn’t have a film crew,” an apparent dig at footage from Iraq and Afghanistan Crow has used in campaign ads.
Coffman then attacked Crow’s record as a criminal defense attorney, saying “he doesn’t want you to know that he was never on the side of the victim.”
Crow retorted: “We have leaders who are afraid to have the courage of their convictions to roll up their sleeves and actually get things done. There’s no better illustration of that then my opponent’s opening statement, which, frankly represents everything that is wrong with our political culture — the reason why we are being torn apart as a country — because they are focusing on attacks.”
But in the same breath Crow also took a swing at Coffman for support he’s received from the National Rifle Association.
“He takes more money from the gun lobby than any other elected official in the state of Colorado,” Crow said.
MORE: Mike Coffman vs. Jason Crow: Where the candidates stand on the issues, from Trump to immigration and health care to guns
The outcome of the Coffman-Crow race could decided whether Republicans keep the U.S. House or it returns to Democratic hands next year. It’s among the most expensive House races in the nation, in terms of outside spending.
Pro-Coffman groups are being outspent by those aligned with Crow. In all, more than $16 million has been allocated to television ad spending alone.
Wednesday’s debate is indicative of the broader final push toward Election Day as ballots are landing in voters’ mailboxes this week. A New York Times poll last month showed Coffman trailing Crow by 11 points, through the Republican’s campaign has maintained that the election remains tight.
Coffman used the face-off to attack Crow over the money he has raised this campaign cycle.
“If you want to say I’m not going to take corporate (political action committee) money and then you take it from leadership PACs — that corporate PACs gave to leadership PACs and then give to the candidate — that’s not being honest,” Coffman said. “And that’s what Jason Crow is doing right now.”
Crow shot back that he hasn’t taken a dime of corporate PAC money.
“There is only one person on this stage who takes corporate PAC money and it is the person sitting to my right,” Crow said.
The Democrat, who was mostly on the defensive during the debate, also called for the overturning the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as Citizens United, that allows organizations to spend big sums of money in politics.
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
In terms of policy, Coffman touted his work on immigration and toward reducing the debt of student pilots. He also vowed to not support his party’s leadership if House rules that allow leadership to prevent bills they don’t like, but which have wide support, from coming up for a vote aren’t changed.
Crow talked about his push for a health insurance option based on Medicare and the need for comprehensive immigration reform. He added: “The biggest problem we have right now is again we have leaders in Congress who have blown up our federal deficit and our debt.”
Both candidates agreed that there needs to be a long-term solution for young immigrants with protections from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Crow is pushing for passage of the DREAM Act, which would give DACA recipients a path to permanent legal status in the U.S. Coffman, meanwhile, called the program’s future one of the most pressing issues facing the 6th District.
Coffman and Crow will meet on the debate stage at least twice more before Election Day, Nov. 6.
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