On Election Day 2018, Democrats did something they’ve been trying to do for years: Help incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Coffman to hang up his hat.
Coffman held onto the 6th Congressional District for five terms, deftly cultivating trust within the district — Colorado’s most diverse — though it had long ago showed signs of slipping out of his hands. Political newcomer Jason Crow took home a victory against Coffman, a feat previous challengers were unable to achieve, and in the process helped Democrats retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Crow Beats Coffman As Other Incumbents Keep Seats
- Democratic Control Of The House Is Trouble For Trump
- Midterms 2018: Full Colorado Election Results
So, what changes now, for residents of the sixth? Crow campaigned as a logical successor to Coffman — an Army veteran and an accessible public servant. Now, residents will see if Crow will live up to Coffman’s legacy of deep involvement in the district.
If Coffman had won a sixth term, he would have been unsinkable. But Crow’s victory brought home the narrative of the 2018 midterm elections as a referendum on President Trump. Coffman even said it himself.
“I knew if this race was nationalized as a referendum on the President, I could not win,” he told supporters in his election night concession speech.
“I was the one that introduced Congressman Mike Coffman to the African community at large 10 years ago,” said Papa Dia, founder and executive director of the African Leadership Group, a Denver-based nonprofit.
While Dia praised Coffman’s dedication to the African immigrant community in his district, he added that, “I’ve never seen anybody challenge him the way that Jason was able to do. Jason came and was very involved in the community as well.”
Coffman also forged tight bonds with Ethiopian and South Asian communities in the district. But Dia said ultimately, people wanted change.
“I think the main deciding factor in CD6 was primarily what’s happening in D.C., and especially things that are coming from the White House. We feel like every post, every Tweet that the president is tweeting is somehow attacking us as a community,” Dia said. “This is the first time we see this many people from our community make it a point to vote. This is the first time we see this many people from our community making sure that their friends, their neighbors get involved and cast their vote. So I think the primary deciding factor was what’s happening in D.C., and as a community, we wanted to see a change.”
Crow is a first-time public servant with no voting record and no name recognition. Those are two things that would be considerable hurdles to any candidate, yet may have actually worked to Crow’s advantage. Joe Miklosi, a former Democratic state representative for State District 9, which overlaps with parts of CD6, said Crow was something new, which was what voters wanted.
“He was a refreshing, new servant leader which I think was attractive to a lot of suburban voters,” he said. “Especially in the Greenwood Village, Highlands Ranch, Centennial portions of the district, that typically a Democrat would lose 60/40.”
Miklosi said that the importance of demographics cannot be understated in this race, and that those demographics changes finally “caught up” with Coffman, as he put it.
“The Aurora Public School district, I believe, has 164 languages spoken, it is the most diverse school district in the United States of America. More than New York City, more than Los Angeles. It is an enormously diverse community,” he said.
“I’m telling you, it’s highly offensive to these communities, Trump’s rhetoric. It’s un-American, it’s un-Christian, it’s un-anything, and it’s disgusting to people. It’s almost like a person farting in church, it’s that type of revolt. People have a disgust of Trump, because he doesn’t want them to be here.”
Even Republicans view the results in the district as a warning shot. Ryan Call, former head of the state Republican Party, said party officials should have their ears open to hear the alarm bells, lest 2020 yield similarly dismal results for conservatives.
“Turnout was down among Republicans, Democrats returned their ballots at a much higher rate, especially in Arapahoe County, and we have seen a substantial increase in registration among Democrats as well as unaffiliated voters,” Call said. “Those unaffiliated voters broke very heavily against Republicans up and down the ticket.”
Even Coffman said that in his own race, he struggled to be heard over the din of Trump.
“The fact is, the president was out there every day. The president became the story every day, the president Tweeted every day. The president made sure that he was the center of attention, every single day. That eclipsed anything that I could do.” Coffman said. “It wasn’t about any issues that I had put forward, or that I had voted on, that dominated the discussion.”
Coffman said he believes that was part of a calculation by President Trump — to campaign hard to keep senate seats in states he carried in 2016, even at the expense of certain House seats, like CD6.
In a news conference at the White House Wednesday morning, Trump had a different take. The president said Republicans who lost their seats were “people for whatever reason who chose not to embrace what we stand for ... and what we stand for meant a lot to most people.”
Trump even called out Coffman by name, along with other Republicans.
“Mike Coffman,” he said. “Too bad, Mike.”
Looking ahead, Coffman has concerns about bipartisanship in the House now that Democrats have taken control. On top of his lengthy record of reaching across the aisle, he’s one of 11 Republican members of the bipartisan climate solutions caucus who lost a re-election bid. Coffman is also a member of the problem-solvers caucus, another bipartisan group aiming to find solutions to congressional gridlock.
“We had come up with a set of rules changes that we believe that we could force on leadership -- whichever party had the majority,” he said. “I hope that Democrats that are a member of that caucus hold true to that, that they will not vote for the nominee for speaker of their party until we get rules changes.”