You’ve gotta hand it to U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. The Republican congressman faces stiff competition basically every two years, in what is essentially the only competitive congressional race in Colorado. And each time, he’s come out on top.
“I’m not overconfident about it,” Coffman said during an interview last month. “I feel pretty good about the race, simply because I’ve had the ability to work the district for so long and have developed fairly deep roots in the district.”
“I kinda wiped out the first string,” Coffman added, speaking about his last opponents. “And now, I think the second-string is coming in. But I don’t dismiss it at all, because of the fact that I think it will be a Democratic-leaning year, to what extent, I don’t know.”
So how will Democratic candidates Jason Crow, a former U.S. Army Ranger and attorney, and Levi Tillemann, an energy and strategy consultant, hope to unseat Coffman?
Crow said he will draw from his service to the country and the community outside of politics.
“I’m a very different candidate and we live in a very different world than we did just a couple of years ago,” Crow said. He added that he’s the first parent to go up against Coffman, which influences how he approaches certain topics. “When I talk about immigration and healthcare and education, I talk about it as a father, and what it’s like to try and raise a family and navigate public schools and the healthcare system.”
Tillemann, who said he grew up in Denver near Lakeside Amusement Park, said he will run a more creative, aggressive and issue-focused campaign than any candidate that’s run against Coffman.
“I think we’ve demonstrated the ability to drive the national conversation on critical issues,” Tillemann said.
Both candidates were in campaign mode the Friday before the primary.
Tillemann said he’s been getting a lot of feedback as his campaign knocks on doors every day in the district, which includes Aurora and parts of Centennial, Littleton and Brighton. He’s cultivated his role as the progressive choice in the primary (though he notes he’s not that far removed from the establishment, having served as an advisor in the Department of Energy under President Obama).
“We are an insurgent candidacy, but we’re not underdogs,” Tillemann said.
Inside his campaign offices in Aurora, Crow said he and his camp will be doing the same thing they’ve been doing the past 14 months. He held a roundtable recently, including one with students and parents who want to address gun violence.
Crow, a combat veteran, said he discusses this topic “on a personal level,” and it was a topic he made a top issue for his campaign early on. He has what he calls is an “ambitious but doable” seven-point plan to address gun violence. He said he respects people’s Second Amendment rights.
“I don’t have a problem with the Second Amendment,” Crow said. “But this isn’t about the Second Amendment. This is about a gun-violence crisis that we have in this country that’s killing over 33,000 people a year.”
Tillemann has an aggressive agenda on guns: Banning assault-style firearms, ending the so-called gun show loophole, keeping firearms away from people with violent criminal records like domestic abuse and — this is under his gun plans — addressing “toxic masculinity.”
He made a national appearance on Fox News last week (he made Tucker Carlson chuckle) after releasing an ad pepper-spraying himself (seriously, viewer discretion advised) to show that it could be a non-lethal defense tool teachers could use as an alternative to firearms.
“People imagine that every school shooter is a trained commando and every teacher should be too and that the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Tillemann said. “That is also not the world that we live in.”
Immigration is another topic both Crow and Tillemann said surfaced again and again on the campaign trail.
Crow on Wednesday held a rally outside immigration detention center in Aurora denouncing President Trump’s policies, which happened before Trump signed an executive order ending a controversial family separation policy. Tillemann ended up crashing the event, supporting the same message. (Tillemann said he was approached by Crow’s people to remind him it was Crow’s event.)
Tillemann said that, too often, candidates “heavily influenced by D.C.” avoid taking firm stances on important policies.
“We believe the way to win is to tell voters what you believe and what you’re going to fight for and not to cloak your language in words that allow you to back out of those commitments,” Tillemann said.
But Crow, who during the rally called on Coffman and others in Washington to take action on Trump’s policy, said he will hold Trump accountable in Congress.
“I’m not going to play political games,” Crow said. “I’m not going to tear down and throw bombs. I’m about a positive vision. I’m about building a coalition to courageously attack issues like gun violence, our healthcare crisis, immigration and I’m not going to waver from that.”