The Weekend Mike Coffman’s Luck Ran Out

Still from Rep. Mike Coffman's 2014 ad using Planned Parenthood's logo.

Still from Rep. Mike Coffman’s 2014 ad using Planned Parenthood’s logo.

Colorado’s most vulnerable Republican incumbent in this crazy 2016 election season, Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, is without question our state’s greatest political survivalist. Few politicians in our state’s history have had their political constituencies as dramatically reshaped out from under them as Coffman, who was originally elected in 2008 to succeed the hard-right anti-immigrant firebrand Rep. Tom Tancredo. After several years representing Tancredo’s accommodating staunch conservative Republican constituents, Coffman’s congressional district was redrawn to include the highly diverse suburban city of Aurora, and went from an ultra-safe Republican seat to one of the nation’s most competitive.

Coffman’s up-to-now successful ability to re-invent his political image in wholesale terms, winning re-election twice in his new diverse and competitive battleground, stands today as perhaps the biggest disappointment for Colorado Democrats in the twelve years they have enjoyed resurgent control in this state. In 2012, Coffman faced an underfunded challenger who came nonetheless unexpectedly close to unseating him. In 2014, Coffman actually ran to the left of his Democratic opponent Andrew Romanoff on certain issues like immigration, and audaciously used Planned Parenthood’s logo in positive ads despite his repeated votes over the years to cut off the organization’s funding.

And Coffman won. Coffman just kept winning, as Democrats fumed over what they viewed as blatant political opportunism and shameless flip-flopping on formerly core issues for pure political survival. In 2014, the successful U.S. Senate campaign of “Con Man Cory” Gardner, along with Coffman, created something like real despair for Democratic strategists that factual positions, statements, and other such “reality based” lines of attack were losing their efficacy in politics. Here were politicians who lied right through the fact-checking and in the end did not pay a price.

This weekend, though, something happened that we may look back on as the moment Coffman’s audacious political re-invention finally broke down. Two major stories, one in the New York Times and the second in today’s Denver Post, take a second look at Coffman’s changing politics–and in doing so, de-legitimize the whole effort with surprising ease. Here’s the New York Times’ Emmarie Huetemann, with her devastating headline “A Congressman Slighted Immigrants, Then Embraced Them. Now He Runs From Trump.”

He started learning Spanish in 2013, he said, shortly after being re-elected to a redistricted House seat whose constituents bore little resemblance to the far more conservative ones who sent him to Congress in 2008. Mr. Coffman, a retired Marine who co-sponsored a bill to make English the nation’s official language and suggested that Hispanic voters who could not understand their ballots should “pull out a dictionary,” suddenly represented the most diverse district in Colorado…

Mr. Coffman’s detractors see him as another pandering politician, willing to do anything to get re-elected. Another of Mr. Coffman’s ads — in which a handful of people of different ages and ethnicities say he is “not like other Republicans” but “one of us” — draws bitter laughter at Ms. Carroll’s campaign office.

“He didn’t find religion until he got redistricted,” said Tim Sandos, a former Denver city councilman who is now the chief executive of the National Hispanic Voter Educational Foundation. “And now all of a sudden he’s ‘one of us.’” [Pols emphasis]

Tom Tancredo, Mike Coffman.

Tom Tancredo, Mike Coffman.

Meanwhile, over Denver Post, reporter Joey Bunch gives Coffman’s long and changing record exactly what Coffman doesn’t want: a thorough and impartial examination.

Opponents concede the congressman has distanced himself from Trump, the candidate, but contend he cannot credibly deny his history of Trump-like statements and Trump-like positions.

The Denver Post analyzed the most common talking points Democrats use to link Coffman and Trump. The Post found that most have some basis in fact, but they lack context to give a better understanding of the issues.

From there, readers are treated to a pretty good summary of what swing voters in Coffman’s district will consider the worst things Coffman has said and done, like claiming President Barack Obama “is not an American” and saying the DREAM Act for undocumented students “will be a nightmare for the American people.” In each case Bunch dutifully includes Coffman’s apology, subsequent policy change, or other “context” as applicable. One item missing from Bunch’s list is the above mentioned use of Planned Parenthood’s logo in Coffman’s campaign ads, which has merited its own story on other occasions.

The context doesn’t help, folks. The aggregate weight of all of Coffman’s reinventions in one place is simply too much. Taking all of Coffman’s “changes of heart” in the only context that matters–Coffman’s quest for political survival–makes the whole exercise look fraudulent. The fact is that none of this is new information, and this is a case that Coffman’s opponents could have made in 2014 with most of the same material. But it’s impossible to read these long form examinations of Coffman’s shifting positions and not conclude that, as Tancredo himself recently said of Coffman, “the only thing authentic about him is his passionate desire to keep that House Member pin on his lapel.”

The difference may be that in this calamitous year for Republicans, Coffman’s reinvention just stands out more. Donald Trump has created a political world of black and white choices for Republicans — a world where it’s next to impossible to be a Republican in the gray area. As we’ve said before, you cannot be publicly ambivalent about Trump, and the GOP Presidential nominee’s line-in-the-sand approach provides little room to maneuver for Republicans such as Coffman.

Coffman’s 2016 campaign is fairly similar to what he’s always done; but by changing the context of this election, Trump is making Coffman’s strategy untenable. There was another way for Coffman, but he missed his exit, and after years of watching Coffman brashly outmaneuver his fate for two election cycles, this feels different to us.

It feels like the beginning of the end.

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25 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JohnInDenverJohnInDenver says:

    I was particularly taken by the observation of his predecessor, Tom Tancredo;

    If I believed for a millisecond that Coffman had, indeed, said what he said about Trump out of a sense of patriotic duty, I could forgive, and maybe even applaud, that decision. Sadly, I know better: Mike Coffman is the worst kind of opportunist. The only thing authentic about him is his passionate desire to keep that House Member pin on his lapel.

    I must admit, this comes from the "it takes one to know one" school of politics. I haven't been paying attention, so I can't recall if Tancredo has regained his Republican status or if he is still "resigned" from the Party to pursue his own chance to make a statement.

  2. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    If I had a nickel for every election where Pols said Coffman was toast and he then went one to win… I'd have a dime.

    Here's hoping this time Morgan Carroll beats him. But the track record for Pols making this claim is a big fat zero.

    • VoyageurVoyageur says:

      Hate to agree with you on this, but you're right.   Pols always views Coffman's races through progressive lenses.   But I do think Morgan is the best he's ever faced.

      • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

        There have certainly been instances where we thought a particular Coffman error would cost him more than it did. As for the final margins, however, we rarely, if ever, had Coffman behind on The Big Line once September rolled around. 

    • BlueCatBlueCat says:

      Agree and if this is all Dem strategists took away from 2014:

      In 2014, the successful U.S. Senate campaign of “Con Man Cory” Gardner, along with Coffman, created something like real despair for Democratic strategists that factual positions, statements, and other such “reality based” lines of attack were losing their efficacy in politics.

      That's very discouraging.  Why? Because in addition to the fact that most voters don't pay attention to all the boring fact based stuff, the Romanoff and Udall campaigns were awful.

      They ran Romanoff as a balanced budget hawk who hardly mentioned issues Dems care about most except for education and completely wasted Udall's considerable sunny Colorado mountaineering boy charm while running all scowling, scolding ads against a pleasantly smiling reasonable sounding (never mind the phoniness of that image. Image counts) Gardner. 

      If they learned nothing about how not to campaign in Colorado from those campaigns and are just going to stick with whining about how facts don't work anymore, they aren't going to beat Coffman this time either. He's a multiple incumbent. 

      With Bennet Dems are fortunate in a team with a clue… his ads so far are great and all about helping ordinary Colorado people….and an extremely weak GOP candidate.

      If the Carroll campaign is going to be all about scolding Coffman for flip flopping she's going to lose. Maybe her team ought to talk to Bennet's team. Or Hick's, whose never lost a campaign. She certainly shouldn't be paying much attention to ColPol's analysis of Coffman's weaknesses according to ColPols.  

      Hint….The overwhelming majority of Colorado voters don't know or care what  the NYT says.

      Yes, attack Coffman but give people lots of warm fuzzy positive reasons to vote for Morgan Carroll. Nobody here likes a scolding sour puss as Team Udall absolutely refused to learn no matter that their ads kept pushing Udall's numbers in the wrong direction.

      When we locals tried to tell them anything about why Romanoff's or Udall's numbers were fading they dismissed us as yokels who didn't understand that they were the pros who knew best.

      For Udall it was to get the women's vote by making it all about abortion. We could have told them (and did) that Colorado women have many priorities and their support for choice doesn't mean they're crazy about abortion. I don't know how many moderate Dem women told me that Udall sounded like a pro-abortion fanatic. Gardner sounded nice and not extreme.  The ops just told us they knew what they were doing. They didn't and it doesn't look like they've learned a thing.

      I'd advise holding the happy dancing over Coffman's political grave.

      • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

        Jesus Christ, give the concern trolling a rest already. I for one hope Coffman's past comes back to bite him in the ass.

        • BlueCatBlueCat says:

           All I want is to see him  out on his ear. Methods that haven't done the job in the past aren't going to suddenly work now. Wishful thinking about how much people care about things like who lied/flip flopped about their true position isn’t going to get it done.

      • VoyageurVoyageur says:

        I basically agree with bc.  A partial dissent isthat much of the abortion uber alles stuff came from third party advertising bbeyond the campaign's control.  But thenet effect was disastrous, just like bc said.

        • BlueCatBlueCat says:

          In the Udall campaign most of the "I approved this message "'ads focused on Gardner’s's unreliabilty on  choice and phony moderate stand on women issues and very few getting similar air time on anything else. It was the campaign itself constantly scolding Gardner and doing little else. I was told by Udall ops that the way he was going to win was with women and that’s why they were focusing so much on women’s issues meaning abortion and choice. It was apparently beyond their comprehension that women care abut anything else.

          • VoyageurVoyageur says:

            You're right, but the third party stuff compounded the damage.  Udall all but ignored a fine environmental record.

            • BlueCatBlueCat says:

              A fine environmental record that could have been highlighted in ads featuring as a backdrop that adorable video of one of his fourteener summits, him with a million dollar smile and looking buff. Colorado voters eat that stuff up.

              • VoyageurVoyageur says:

                They do indeed and face it, Udall had the rugged good looks to pull it off.  This is a guy who represented the best of the Colorado lifestyle and they turned him into "Mark Uterus."  dumb, dumb, dumb.

                • BlueCatBlueCat says:

                  That's what happens when ops from who knows where rely on their one size fits all campaign cookie cutter and ignore what we ignorant locals tell them.  But that's what they do. Constantly. 

  3. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    As a relatively unbiased observer (since I don't live in District 6), I think this election is Coffman's to lose. Reading various media, and watching a little TV now and then, I haven't seen any reason why I would want to vote for Carroll; yes, I always split my ticket.

    Carroll seems to be running an invisible campaign.

    • BlueCatBlueCat says:

      So far I'd have to agree on the invisibility. Maybe there are limited funds so her team is waiting to get more bang for the buck closer to the election but so far I'm not seeing anything that would raise her name rec an iota.

  4. exlurker19 says:

    Best ad for Morgan I've seen is a close up of Coffman's face with a goofy expression saying he doesn't like Trump.  Of course, the Repubs seem to like goofy politicians.  I have hope Morgan can pull it off, but not actual confidence, alas.  Coffman is remarkably rubber, sticking his views to his opponents.

  5. itlduso says:

    Hopefully, the Morgan Carroll campaign has enough resources to promote two messages: 1)Coffman = Trump = Coffman; and, 2) Introduce Morgan Carroll to the CD6 voters that she hasn't already represented in the state legislature for 12 years, as a caring, competent leader who will take her bipartisan approach to Congress.

    (And, Clinton up by 14 points against Trump in CD6 is a pretty good place to start Morgan's advertising blitz, IMHO.)

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