AURORA | The once heavily GOP Congressional District 6 is now split almost evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independents, and some political analysts suggest that what worked for incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s campaign in 2008 and 2010 might not work for him this time around.
“Clearly before, all you had to do was be a Republican and wake up with a pulse and you could win the 6th Congressional District,” said Ryan Frazier, a former Aurora City Councilman and a frequent political commentator on television. “And now, you really have to work for it and compete vigorously.”
Minor changes in Coffman’s stance on social issues have already been noticed, but Coffman won’t go as far as becoming a less-conservative candidate this go-around, said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based political analyst. Rather, the district’s new voter registration division just means that he’ll choose wisely which issues to talk about during his campaign, Ciruli said.
“I think he needs to emphasize the usefulness of his incumbency, what he has done for the district,” he said.
Since Republican voters made up a majority of the district in 2008 and 2010, it wasn’t surprising to analysts like Ciruli when voters chose Coffman in the 2008 election as the successor to staunch conservative Republican Tom Tancredo, who held the seat for four terms. Coffman was re-elected in 2010 by gaining about 65 percent of the vote, beating Democratic contender John Flerlage.
A district’s voter composition is usually a good indicator of success, Ciruli said. Affiliated voters don’t normally stray from their parties.
This year, the voter registration numbers show that the district is one of the key swing areas in the country.
As of July 2012, 32 percent of registered voters in the district were Democrats, 33 percent were Republican, and 32 percent unaffiliated. There are a total of about 446,760 registered voters in the district.
By comparison, in November 2008, registered Republicans dominated the district. That year, 42 percent of the district’s voters were registered Republican, compared with 26 percent who were registered Democrat and 30 percent who were unaffiliated voters. There were about 535,000 registered voters that year.
In November 2010, the district was similarly divided, with 26 percent of Democratic registered voters, 42 percent Republican and 31 percent unaffiliated.
The race for Congressional District 6 has been heating up as the November election nears, with each candidate calling the other “extreme.”
But political analysts are also noticing some other differences in Coffman’s campaign efforts so far.
A spat over Coffman’s stance on the personhood amendment played out in the media in early August. Coffman told the Aurora Sentinel on Aug. 7 in an email that he wouldn’t be taking a stance on the issue this year, although he did back the amendment in 2008 and 2010.
In a Colorado Right to Life Candidate Questionnaire Coffman wrote that he supported the 2008 Colorado personhood amendment and agreed that abortion is wrong, even in cases of rape or incest.
According to Ciruli, personhood is an issue the Coffman campaign would consider being “negative and extraneous.
“To the extent that he can avoid that issue, that’s very positive,” he said.
Frazier said Coffman’s decision to back away from personhood this year is evidence of Coffman keeping his campaign message on target.
“I believe that what Mike is doing is he’s emphasizing those areas and issues that the people of the 6th Congressional District can relate to,” said Frazier, who was previously a candidate for Aurora mayor and Congressional District 7. Those issues include job creation and keeping federal government fiscally accountable, he said. “Those are issues that I would expect him to emphasize more because those are issues that are most important to people.”
Campaign spokesman Owen Loftus said Coffman isn’t taking a position on any state of local ballot initiatives, since he’s running a federal race.
“The focus of this campaign is not on social issues, but about jobs and the economy which have directly impacted the families in Aurora,” he said.
There is no mention about the “right to life” issue on Coffman’s new campaign website, but he did change the wording on the new website regarding his stance on another hot-button issue — gun rights.
The new language reads that the Second Amendment is “vital to promote responsible gun ownership by keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and of the mentally unstable.”
Loftus said Coffman has always been “forthcoming” about where he is on the issues, and has always had that mindset, but he wanted to emphasize it after the July 20 theater shootings.
Until early August, the language on the website was: “The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed under the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution and must not be infringed upon by government at any level. Congress needs to counter the dangerous efforts of special interest groups seeking to limit this right.”
No matter what their campaign strategies are, it’s clear that both Coffman and Miklosi will have to work heavily on swaying Independents to vote for their respective parties, Ciruli said.
“The swing voter, the unaffiliated voter is going to be critical,” he said.
Independent voters are perhaps more significant now more than ever in the race for Congressional District 6, said Ryan Hobart, director of communications for Miklosi.
“Those folks who are undecided at this point will most likely decide the election,” he said.
Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.