As we wrap up the political happenings of 2015, we can glance ahead to this time next year and make a prediction: Whatever happens in Congressional District 6 will end up as one of the Top 10 stories of 2016. And if next year continues along the same trend line as 2015, the outcome of CD-6 will easily crack the Top 3.
It is quite possible that 2016 will be the end of the line for Mike Coffman after three decades as an elected official; if so we’ll look back on 2015 as the year when everything started to go wrong for the four-term Aurora Congressman.
At this time last year, Coffman was basking in the glow of a November beatdown of Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff. National pundits had agreed that CD-6 was a “toss-up” race in 2014, but then Coffman went ahead and thrashed Romanoff 52-43 in one of the bigger political surprises in Colorado. Buoyed by such a dominating re-election victory, Coffman entered 2015 as the top Republican recruit for the 2016 U.S. Senate race. Republicans were licking their respective chops over the idea of taking out incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet – just one cycle after Republican Cory Gardner defeated Sen. Mark Udall – and they believed that Coffman was the man to make it happen. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell personally wooed Coffman on multiple occasions, including a much-publicized breakfast meeting that was intended to seal the deal once and for all.
Coffman ultimately decided against running for Senate in 2016, and in retrospect, Republicans may be glad that he declined. A year that began with such promise for Coffman devolved quickly, and he now heads into another re-election effort with all the momentum of a two-legged turtle.
Just a few weeks after Coffman announced that he would seek re-election in CD-6, charismatic state Sen. Morgan Carroll made it official that she would run for his seat in 2016. To say that Carroll was the top choice for Democrats would be almost an understatement – she was #1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 on the list of potential candidates and immediately cleared the rest of the field (unless you count Perry Haney, and we don’t). Republicans understood the threat, too, with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) immediately launching attacks trying to label Carroll as an “extreme liberal.” In fact, national Republicans had begun dogging Carroll months before she entered the race.
Carroll’s confident candidacy energized Democrats who worried that Coffman’s 2014 victory would make CD-6 untouchable in the near future. The likable, photogenic Carroll has been a darling of the Democratic base for years and had been touted as a potential candidate for everything from Attorney General to Governor. Soon after she entered the race, national pundits began to move CD-6 back into the “toss-up” realm.
But it wasn’t just Carroll’s potential that had people taking a fresh look at the district. In the same month that Carroll announced her candidacy, Coffman reported his worst fundraising quarter in the last four years. He was besieged with political problems, none more bothersome than the mess surrounding the over-budget and long overdue construction of a new Veterans’ Administration hospital in Aurora. The fact that the VA delays were taking place in his own backyard would be problem enough for Coffman – even if he wasn’t serving as the Chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommitee for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Coffman’s “oversight” ended up being little more than an endless display of finger-pointing and name calling, and Carroll’s campaign wasted no time in pointing out those inconsistencies.
Problems with the VA Hospital project – which became front-page news in Colorado — were just one of many troubles in a difficult year for Coffman. His last name was dragged through the national media after his wife, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, helped spearhead a bizarre coup attempt against newly-elected State GOP Chair Steve House. Mike Coffman’s top political aide, Tyler Sandberg, departed for a consulting job just before the August recess, and the staff changes did not go well. Coffman’s new spokesperson Cinamon Watson quickly stuck both feet into her mouth in responding to a 2014 campaign ad in which Coffman indicated support from Planned Parenthood – an organization he has voted to defund a half-dozen times (and directly criticized throughout the fall). That issue became even more problematic for Coffman in the wake of a terrorist attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, on which Coffman barely commented.
It’s certainly possible for Coffman to turn things around in 2016 – it’s hard to see things getting much worse – and history has shown Coffman to be a savvy politician who is difficult to dispatch. Yet Coffman isn’t showing signs of improvement (witness his absolute terror in the face of questions about GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump) and his tough-talking military shtick could really backfire against a strong female opponent like Morgan Carroll.
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