We are obliged to take note of a story from late last week with some import on Colorado’s perennially most competitive congressional race, for incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman’s swing CD-6 seat–as CBS4 Denver reports, the powerful Koch brothers have omitted Coffman from their list of candidates they and their wealthy “liberservative” friends will be lavishing money on, at least to kick off the 2018 election cycle:
The political network created by the billionaire Koch brothers announced plans to support eight House Republicans on Thursday, pledging financial resources and activists to help re-elect several vulnerable congressmen deemed “principled” conservatives.
The first wave of endorsements includes a handful of sometime-critics of President Donald Trump, particularly on immigration and spending…
Absent from the list are some of the nation’s most vulnerable House Republicans including Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Mike Coffman of Colorado in addition to any Republicans from top House battleground states such as California, New Jersey or New York.
In 2016, Americans For Prosperity-Colorado played an outsize role in helping Coffman retain his seat against former Sen. Morgan Carroll. The organization, which has a deep-pocketed presence in the state and frequently exchanges staff with “hard side” Republican entities like the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate, ran voter contact campaigns in the district with a negative message against Carroll, and has run ads in support of Coffman both in and out of the election cycle for years.
It’s therefore a very significant development that AFP has decided to sit out at least the start of 2018 in CD-6, depriving Coffman of an important asset that he’s taken for granted in the past. In response to this announcement, Coffman is doing something we’ve seen countless times in his career, as we briefly noted Friday:
“We differed recently on an issue. It was important to them, they wanted a ‘no’ vote on the farm bill. Let me tell you: I was with them last time — I voted ‘no.’ But I voted ‘yes’ this time.”
We’ve written many times in this space about the political strategy of “triangulation,” in which a candidate running in a difficult race either criticizes or welcomes criticism from his traditional political allies in order to gain advantage with swingable voters. On specific issues like immigration, but increasingly in general as Coffman has faced the unprecedented division caused by the current Republican president, Coffman has put himself rhetorically at odds with Trump and the GOP leadership in his chamber of Congress.
With that in mind, and while we’re sure Coffman would have been happy to have this organization’s help, he knew exactly where to go with this snub by the Koch brothers. It’s not the best outcome, but the fallback of playing off the Koch brothers brand politically doesn’t look bad to Coffman and his campaign team. It was an easy, almost reflex choice at this point. The reason is simple: it works. This ability to be all things, not to all people but to enough people for a majority coalition, is how Coffman wins in a district that Democrats carry in other races easily.
Coffman’s ability to triangulate off his own party and split Democratic tickets in CD-6 is arguably the greatest frustration for Democratic strategists in Colorado since their takeover of the state between the 2004-06 elections. It’s a close contest between Coffman and the stinging defeat of Sen. Cory Gardner’s 2014 election, but Coffman’s ability to survive repeated challenges since redistricting in 2011 took away Tom Tancredo’s impregnable conservative base is more vexing in the long run. Coffman’s thoughtful and highly qualified challengers in 2014 and 2016, though they ran disappointing campaigns in the end, both represented high hopes–hopes that Coffman dashed, and then made a mockery of with a voting record since 2016 95.6% in line with Donald Trump’s wishes.
In 2016, we said that if Coffman could not be defeated that year, Democrats should probably stop trying. He won again easily. But the historic political upheaval that has followed under President Trump, certainly compared to what the political climate would be today had Trump lost, alters the equation. Today, even after shifts in special election results that would swamp Coffman’s margins of victory, we are still not ready to write Coffman’s epitaph.
But it is possible that Mike Coffman has triangulated himself into a corner–and 2018 is the year it ends.