Vulnerable Mike Coffman Lays Low As Challenge Looms

Mike and Cynthia Coffman. And dog.

Mike and Cynthia Coffman. And dog.

For the last two weeks, a member of the Coffman family has dominated political headlines in Colorado, though not the Coffman most people think of. When we last left off with GOP Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, he was vowing to repeal Obamacare in the wake of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and hurrying to pivot to “jobs and the economy” in response to the court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage equality–but still not getting anything like the press his embattled wife was receiving.

Which we fully assume he considers to be a good thing.

Just before the “Coffmangate” blackmail scandal involving Rep. Coffman’s spouse Attorney General Cynthia Coffman broke open in the middle of June, Mike Coffman’s remarks on a radio talk show comparing the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Middle Eastern terrorist group ISIS made the rounds with no small degree of controversy. But since then, we’ve seen very little in the way of earned media for Rep. Coffman beyond those brief statements, regarding either the overbudget Aurora VA hospital has had spent so much time grandstanding on as an election issue, or anything else.

And naturally, he’s had nothing to say about his spouse’s political implosion.

But the world moves on: just today, Mike Coffman’s name was mentioned again as one of the most competitive races in the Mountain West for 2016. Roll Call’s Rothenblog:

Coffman’s decision to seek re-election puts a wrench into Democratic plans to take over his open seat. But that doesn’t mean the party will give him a free pass. President Barack Obama won the 6th by 6 points in 2012 and 9 points in 2008, but Coffman easily dispatched former state Speaker Andrew Romanoff, 52-43 percent, in 2014. State Sen. Morgan Carroll has been mentioned on the Democratic side but the field is still fluid. As far out of reach as this race seems for Democrats, it’s probably the type of district the party has to win in order to get the majority in 2016…

After Andrew Romanoff’s unexpected shellacking at the polls in 2014, the second win for Rep. Coffman over resurgent Democratic opponents since his congressional district was remade into a closely divided battleground in 2011, conventional wisdom might have declared him safe. But the CD-6 electorate in 2014 seems to have almost uniquely punished Romanoff for running an uninspiring centrist campaign, sending him to defeat by a greater margin than overlapping Democratic candidates in other races. In 2012, low-budget underdog challenger Joe Miklosi came far closer to defeating Coffman than Romanoff did, a result that demonstrates the potential in this district for a candidate who can turn out the Democratic vote–or at least not demotivate base Democrats like Romanoff did with his milquetoast “balance the budget” message. And above all, the difference in the electorate between the 2012 presidential elections and last year’s midterms gives Democrats hope that 2016 may be the year Rep. Coffman’s number comes up.

Bottom line: Mike Coffman has proven a resilient incumbent, able to reinvent himself in dramatic fashion to appeal to a very different electorate than the hard-right conservative voters who originally elected him to Congress. But he has also benefited circumstantially from weak opponents, and a strong “Republican wave” in 2014. A combination of his starkly opposed past positions on the issues, continuing predilection for embarrassing verbal diarrhea like the ISIS/VA crack or his declaration in 2012 that President Barack Obama “is just not an American,” and the growing possibility of the right challenger in the right year, means that no matter how handily he was re-elected in the last election, Rep. Coffman remains vulnerable in the next one.

That perennial vulnerability is why Coffman chose not to run for the U.S. Senate next year, with his negatives potentially attracting much more attention in that marquee statewide race. His best career option, as we long expected he would decide, was to fight to hold CD-6–considered vital to either side’s aspirations for control of Congress.

The problem is, in 2016 Democrats may finally have the right combination of circumstances and human capital to take Coffman out.

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34 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. BlueCatBlueCat says:

    Whatever. I don't think he's going to have live in the same town, or one near it, as his wife any time soon.

  2. BlueCatBlueCat says:

    I will say they have a really great big beautiful dog and no one can complain about unflattering pic selection. 

  3. rathmone says:

    Technically, when we last left off with Mike, he was comparing Veterans Administration employees to ISIS terrorists beheading Christians.

  4. itlduso says:

    Senator Morgan Carroll — We're Fired Up and Ready to Go!

    Are you?

    • FrankUnderwood says:

      What else does she have to do since she's term limited? Other than the possibility that there may be a special election for attorney general in '16   wink   for which Morgan Carroll would be an ideal candidate, she's got no place else to go. 

    • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

      Hell yes! 2016 is the year Coffman's luck runs out.

      Carroll for Congress!

  5. Gilpin Guy says:

    Coffman's fortunes are tied to the other Coffman.  A long drawn out and public spat that involves charges will definitely taint the guy and make guilty by association harder to ignore.

    Dems. need a candidate who is willing to go toe to toe with the guy on the issues that matter to CD-6.  No more Bennet lite ‘he’s anti-abortion’ ads.  Hit the guy on his unbelievably lax oversight of Veterans affairs and projects.  That one should leave a mark for sure.

    • BlueCatBlueCat says:

      Problem with that? Also Dems on the committee. Do you remember hearing much from them as this fiasco was going on? You think the party really wants to go there?

      • Gilpin Guy says:

        He was the chair and responsible for it's direction.  The Dems on that committee aren't Coloradans.  It happened in his district and he didn't know what was going on.  It's on him to fight off accusations of unbelievable incompetence in a leadership position.

        • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

          Fact check: Coffman has in fact been talking about, and attempted to put through several pieces of legislation relating to the VA construction problems since 2011. Before that,  when it was his district, Perlmutter tried, as well, with equal lack of success.

          My take on it is that Coffman prefers very partisan, nuclear options to "fix" the VA – fire the chief,  fire the contractors, turn it over to the Corps of Engineers (the Katrina levees guys), blame it on the Dems, sell the VA's Paris hotel, hold the employee bonuses hostage, "joke" that the VA are like ISIS, blame it on Obama. He accuses the VA of  corruption and kickbacks, too, claims he was lied to, but that's what an effective overseer should have been investigating long ago.  But now it's finally being investigated.

          So Coffman has  known what was going on, and has been talking about the VA, and this is how he did "oversight". He just hasn't been very effective at it, because he doesn't like and isn't good at compromise or negotiation.

          This needed negotiation, sitting down with all stakeholders, revisiting the design before it was built .  It's too late to start over with a less grandiose architectural vision when the damn thing is 2/3 done on that design. Now,  vets just need the beds and facilities, and nobody cares what the building looks like. Vets needing care are being outsourced to other hospitals that don't know how to take care of them, and often delay in getting their records from the VA.

          So when we talk about Mike Coffman and his responsibility for the VA hospital mess, we shouldn't say that he knew nothing, or did nothing. It's just that he wasn't effective with what he did know and did do.

          Like you said, GG, "incompetence in a leadership position."

          • Gilpin Guy says:

            Thanks for the clarification mamajama.  Probably his wife is going to be a bigger drag on his election than his record as a leader but it wouldn't be a sin for his opponent to shine a light on his putrid results.

        • BlueCatBlueCat says:

          Yes. We here know and care about that. Average voters? You're dreaming. What’s to fight off? None of the mainstream coverage mentions a thing about Coffman except in the context of fighting to get this done. Good luck making a dent with this.

  6. gertie97 says:

    They'll go anywhere if it beats Mikey. Besides, when was the last time you saw a campaign ad giving equal time?

    • BlueCatBlueCat says:

      I have no idea what your remark about equal time means but I know we haven't heard a peep against him based on his committee's oversight so far from any Dem pol.  Rs are the ones who don't hesitate to attack multiple amputee Democratic military heroes. Dems running against Rs who have served just express admiration for their service and move along to criticize them on other issues.

      Dem pols have been deathly afraid of being called wimps who don't support the troops for decades. The last thing any Dem wants to do is look like they don't sufficiently respect any R's service. I wouldn't recommend holding your breath waiting for a campaign based on calling Coffman to account for his committee's oversight during the time the VA hospital fiasco was unfolding, that's all.

      You and ColPols and some other progressive blogs seem to think you've really got something here but I've seen no indication of it. None. Zero. Nada. Whenever this subject is reported on, Coffman is mentioned only in the positive context of fighting to get this done for our vets. That view has yet to be contradicted publicly by Colorado's Dem pols. Please let me know when you hear anything different. Forgive me for not holding my breath.

  7. Tom says:

    I’m not looking forward to Mike’s inevitable fallback position if his terrible leadership and policy positions on the Veterans Committee are highlighted in the campaign. Dude’s going go full jingo. Flags as far as the eye can see. Constant photo ops with uniformed personnel that barely skirt regs against active campaigning. All boiling down to “I served so STFU.”

    No telling whether that will be effective in the current district, but it will be ugly and tiresome.

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      Wonder what he'll do when folks start questioning his dealings with his wife.  Show their two separate houses and claim that he's never seen her undressed.  That might be one of his truer statements.

  8. Republican 36 says:

    It is far from certain that AG Cynthia Coffman's political problems will continue or that, if they do, they will have any effect on Congressman Coffman's reelection bid in 2016. Most voters can distinguish between candidates and Cynthia Coffman won't be on the ballot next year.

    On the VA hospital issue, Congressman Coffman has insulated himself from criticism. In today's Denver Post, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said neither the congressional committees nor the public will receive "dollar-by-dollar account" of what went wrong at the Aurora site. That's not Coffman's fault. Its the executive branch stonewalling all of us.

    The deputy secretary went on to say that the problems stem from an unfamiliar contracting method and an agreement that made the VA liable for an affordable design as major factors that drove up the cost. By referencing those two causes he just made himself and the agency he works for into cannon fodder; and for that matter gave Congressman Coffman more legitimate political ammunition.

    All federal agencies must comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulation,which governs contracts between the federal agencies and private contractors. What does he mean an unfamiliar contracting method. Is he really saying the VA contracting arm had no idea what kind of contract they were executing or what the terms meant? It sure sounds like it. The responsibility for that part of the debacle rests squarely with the VA, not Congressman Coffman. 

    The deputy secretary complains that because the VA was responsible for an affordable design that caused the tripling of the cost? It sounds like he is saying if the VA wasn't responsible for an affordable design (i.e. free to be irresponsible), the hospital would cost far less. My guess is this guy had no idea how the general public would interpret his statements but they certainly aren't going to lay the blame on Congressman Coffman's doorstep and they shouldn't. This is one where the administration needs to look seriously at disciplining the management employees involved and take responsibility for this debacle.

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      Thanks 36.  Hopefully there will be needed reforms that come out of this review.  I'm reassured that Coffman is insulated from any responsibility in this affair.  Now if I can remember what legislation he has authored and succeeded in passing, I'll support pinning a brownie badge on him for his outstanding leadership and awesome legislative accomplishments..

    • Andrew Carnegie says:

      When they screw up they usually get promoted, a la Susan Rice.  Seems to me Sloan has shown he is cabinet material.

      • Gilpin Guy says:

        Just like Brownie did a heckuva job for Bush right?

        In Republican circles Michael Brown would be presidential material.

        Did Beelzebub give you some time off to return to earth?  I would have thought you would be trumpeting the Trump amongst us humble liberals showing us the errors of our ways.

  9. vertigo700 says:

    I also think there is something to be said for running a Democrat who actually has been elected and has a constituency in CO-6. We keep running these carpet-baggers who nobody really knows in Aurora and who have to create an election infrastructure in the district anew.

    How about we actually run someone like Morgan Carroll or Rhonda Fields who has been elected in CO-6, has a constituency, has people there who are willing to help run the campaign and can inspire voters to actually vote. Coffman has his suburban, mostly-whit constituency come out every year. It's about time that we get our working-class, women (btw, there are nearly 16,000 more women than men in CO-6) and voters of color in CO-6 to go to the polls.

    We’re not going to win if we keep running milquetoast white guys who aren’t even from the district. Coffman already has the voters who would find such candidates appealing.

    • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

      I really like Rhonda Fields, and Morgan Carroll as legislators. Carroll is probably more electable in CD6.  But it also totally depends on the ground game. As I've said ad nauseum, Coffman may be a spasmodic tool, but he has hired excellent staffers who give excellent constituent services.

      The candidate who challenges him will have to have an army of door-to-door volunteers, and a straightforward economic message.

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