Congressional preview

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: congressional midterm elections.

As November approaches, we’ll cover a variety of important state races and ballot initiatives across the country.

Today we begin with a notable U-S House race in Colorado. The state sends seven representatives to Washington — as it stands now, four Republicans and three Democrats.

But this November, one district could fall to either party — and with it, possibly control of the House.

It’s something of a bellwether.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Colorado’s Sixth District, it’s in the eastern Denver metro area, and it leans more Democrat than Republican.

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg recently visited the district and she has this report.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: When Mike Coffman first won the Sixth District in 2008, it looked markedly different than it does today. Redistricting after the 2010 census shifted the district’s boundaries to exclude rural Republican counties and include Denver’s more moderate eastern and southern suburbs. The district now consists of the booming suburban cities of Aurora, Littleton, and Centennial.

Despite those changes, Mike Coffman has managed to hold on to his district’s seat, narrowly winning with only 48, 52, and 51 percent of the vote the last three elections.

Jeff Hunt is the director of the Centennial Institute—a political think tank at Colorado Christian University. He says Coffman has retained the seat by staying close to his district.

HUNT: The truth is he’s just really good at representing his people. He spends a lot of time with them. He engages with them, he learns what their issues are, and then he seeks to represent them in, in Congress.

In the 2016 election, President Donald Trump lost Coffman’s district by nine points. That has Democrats eyeing a win here in 2018. Party leaders are pouring money and endorsements on Jason Crow, an Army veteran, corporate lawyer, and former reelection campaign adviser to President Barack Obama.

In last month’s primary, Crow easily won the Democratic nomination. He campaigned on gun control, environmental protection, and universal healthcare.

CROW: You know I look at the gun violence crisis and how it’s torn apart so many families. This is another perfect example of Mike Coffman and his failed leadership.

Kyle Kondik is with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He says in this race—like others around the country—national issues have become local issues. And it could turn on President Trump’s policies.  

KONDIK: This is a place that if there is a significant anti-Trump vote, Coffman is going to be in real trouble. I do think that this is a good place to sort of measure how the president is holding up.

Kondik says although Coffman pulled off impressive upsets in the past, he did so with a Democratic president.

KONDIK: Now there’s a Republican in the White House who’s not very popular nationally or in this district. I think we know from history that voters will sometimes want to put a check on the White House through their congressional vote in a midterm year.

That’s why Mike Coffman is emphasizing his independent streak. In 2016 he didn’t endorse or vote for either presidential candidate.

COFFMAN: I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump…

The Centennial Institute’s Jeff Hunt says Coffman has reached across the aisle on a variety of issues.

HUNT: He was very critical of the VA even under the last pick by the Trump administration. He’s been independent on immigration. He’s been a relatively independent voice calling to make sure that families are not separated. On marijuana he’s been kind of, uh, mixed. So, in some cases he said that medical marijuana is fine, but he’s not in favor of full drug legalization.

Coffman also voted against the GOP’s Affordable Care Act reform bill and has opposed net neutrality regulation rollbacks popular with Republicans.

But Coffman’s breaks from his party aren’t enough for some Sixth District voters, like this Aurora woman.

SCHWEINSBERG: Who do you plan on voting for in the fall?

WOMAN: Jason Crow. Uh, I just don’t like the way Mike has gone along with everything Trump has said. I think he is just following Trump regardless of what his constituents think.  

Other voters say this race isn’t about national politics. The district has a large Hispanic and Ethiopian immigrant population. Coffman has made a point of getting to know these communities… learning Spanish and attending many Ethiopian community events.

Those actions have resonated with some Ethiopian immigrants.

ETHIOPIAN MAN: He stands for the working class, and he’s always very supportive of the veterans. He’s very sensitive to the people’s issues. I know he cares a lot.

Like many races, winning over independents is vital here. There are more unaffiliated voters in Colorado than registered Democrats or Republicans.

Dan Kunkel is one of them. He supports Coffman because he’s largely pro-life.

KUNKEL: By and large he’s at least more than the other people that run against him.

In the primaries, independent voters leaned strongly Democratic. But the latest poll put out by Democrat Jason Crow’s campaign shows he’s only up by two points, and Crow and Coffman are neck-and-neck in fundraising.

The University of Virginia’s Kyle Kondik calls this race nearly impossible to predict.

KONDIK: There’s a path to victory for both of them.

It’s only one race, but if Coffman wins, Republicans may have a chance of keeping control of the House. If Crow wins, it likely means Democrats will take back the House.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg, reporting from Aurora, Colorado.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski) U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, talks during a news conference before a town hall meeting with constituents in a high school assembly hall Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, in Greenwood Village, Colo. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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