Mike Littwin: Carroll vs. Coffman may decide which party leads the House
November 25, 2015
See if this sounds familiar. Former state Senate president Morgan Carroll, who announced she's running against Mike Coffman in the 6th CD, is seen as the Democrats' last, best chance to win the seat.
If that doesn't sound familiar, you're probably in the wrong space. It was just last year that Andrew Romanoff, the former state House speaker, ran against Coffman, as, yes, the Dems' maybe last and certainly best chance to win the seat.
You may remember what happened. Coffman won by a staggering nine points in a tossup district in what was considered a tossup race at which the national parties tossed all the money they could find.
The race was seen as a marker for 2016, a predictor of the Democratic-Republican balance in a bellwether state. In fact, if Cory Gardner hadn't been beating Mark Udall at the same time, more people might have noticed just how disastrous the Romanoff loss was for Democrats, not to mention for Romanoff.
So, you're asking, why should Carroll think she can do any better? It's not like she's running against Cynthia Coffman, after all. Mike is not the Coffman who runs around attempting amateurish party coups, being accused of blackmail by the state party chair and getting rebuked by the GOP executive committee on a 22-1 vote.
No, he's the Coffman who once went all birther on Barack Obama, who used to support personhood, who used to co-sponsor bills on anchor babies, who could, on his good/bad days, nearly out-Tancredo himself and yet who somehow wins every race he enters, and usually by a lot.
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National Republicans were begging him to run against Michael Bennet for the U.S. Senate. He chose instead, wisely, to defend his seat. If Coffman wins this time, against a well-funded, well-known candidate in a presidential-cycle year, he might well hold onto the seat forever.
So, can Carroll, who is actually from the district and who has been knocking on doors and holding town halls there for more than a decade, beat Coffman?
That's just the question I asked her, right after asking her why anyone in his or her right mind would actually want this job.
She's the one, after all, who said of Congress that "it's a place where dysfunction is almost a bragging right." That was one of the nicer things she said.
She laughed. And it's almost funny. We know what happens if you lose the race. You go home and figure out another career and try to forget the million dollars spent on attack ads directed at you. But if you win? You become a member of Congress, which has an approval rating somewhere along the lines of your cable company. You become a member of the minority party in the House at a time when the majority party was last seen trying to rescue the Confederate flag. And the buzz from Capitol Hill? The way spending bills are being crafted — you know, like to prohibit money for Obamacare — it looks like there's another shutdown showdown on the way this fall, and just in time for the pope's visit.
When Carroll was approached about making the run, she was, she said, "pretty hostile to the idea." Carroll, who is being term-limited at the Senate in 2016, was clearly going to run for something else eventually. But for the House?
"Most people think that the Founders had a pretty good idea which worked for a long time and now is broken … The question is do we walk away from it or do we try to fix it."
She asked the Colorado Democrats in Congress their thoughts, and, surprisingly, they each told her they were not wasting their time in Washington. It may have been a hard case to make, but DeGette talked about health care and Polis about staffing mobile units for immigrants in his district and Perlmutter about his role in Dodd-Frank and Carroll came away convinced about running. She now talks excitedly of left-right coalitions forming against the Patriot Act — which, she says, "I've always hated" — and against No Child Left Behind.
So how does this play out? Carroll is a liberal with a long history of liberal votes, running in a moderate district. Coffman is a conservative with a long history of conservative votes who keeps winning in a moderate district. Carroll is a hard-headed liberal unafraid to break with party orthodoxy and who will be pushing the populist line. Coffman is a pit bull who has broken with his own record on social issues. He'll have to explain why Congress, now completely controlled by his party, can't seem to get anything done.
The issues, in other words, won't be much different from those in the presidential race. And does anyone split tickets anymore? Carroll is already saying it's a great year to be a woman on the ballot.
Democrats are looking to 2012, when an underfunded, little-known Joe Miklosi came within two points of upsetting Coffman in the same year that Obama was carrying the district, with its sizable minority population. Republicans are looking to 2014, when well-funded, well-known Romanoff lost by nine points in a huge GOP year. Was 2014 just a matter of the off-year electorate favoring Republicans? Was 2012 a matter of Coffman overconfidence?
You know the stakes. If Democrats hope to close the gap in the House, they have to win this seat, which is not exactly a secret. Let's just say that funding won't be an issue on either side. And it will get nasty. Carroll says she knows Republicans are already working on how many times you can put "liberal" into one 30-second ad.
And so it begins — 16 months from November 2016 — in the same the way Coffman-Romanoff began. The Cook Report — which knows this stuff as well as anyone — is already calling the 6th a tossup. What else would you expect?