U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman was walking past brightly-colored costumes and folks enjoying tamales with Mexican hot chocolate when he spotted the woman sitting in the front row. He introduced himself to her and the children sitting nearby.
Like Coffman, Ingrid Carrera, a resident of Montbello, had stopped by the People’s Building in Aurora on Thursday for a city-sponsored Dia de los Muertos celebration.
Carrera won’t vote this year but said she’s in the process of gaining legal status. She said she chatted with Coffman about her home state in Mexico, Veracruz, a coastal state known for its seafood. Carrera said Coffman told her he has yet to find that kind of food here.
After a few minutes of chatting near the bleachers where she sat, Coffman hugged her goodbye, like a friend he hadn’t seen in ages.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen him in person,” Carrera said afterward in Spanish. “He seems to me like a sensible, good person who is accepting of Hispanic people.”
The Republican congressman chatted with Carrera and others as he made his way through a vibrant maze of face-painted visitors and other costumed onlookers. Coffman was pulling double-duty: It was half-campaign stop, half-congressional visit, since the crowd was filled with constituent he hopes to continue representing.
Coffman can mingle without coming off awkward, or even worse, culturally insensitive. He has made this kind of outreach toward the district’s numerous immigrant communities a staple of his time in Congress. He had some help: He was followed closely Thursday by his Spanish tutor, Leonor Cuervo de Rojas, a former high school teacher who would sometimes help clarify his word choice.
But he knows time is running out. As bright as Thursday felt, there are polls and money suggesting the sun is setting on Coffman’s time in Congress.
“It’s like a wave of money coming in,” Coffman said. “It’s impossible for me to make sense out of any of the polls, out of any of the polling and part of it is, this is not a traditional suburban district.”
The 6th Congressional District race between Coffman and Democrat Jason Crow is now one of the most expensive races in the country.
And the money is pretty one-sided, with the Denver Post reporting last month 59 percent of money opposing Coffman and supporting Crow. Nearly $14 million has been spent on the race from outside groups.
Despite losing money from another big Republican PAC last month, Coffman said his campaign hasn’t changed.
“I’ve always dramatically outperformed poll numbers,” Coffman said, chatting briefly before being pulled aside by an admirer. He continued afterward: “So in 2014, I had the first opportunity to work this district and they had me up by two and I won by nine (points).”
“Immigrants are suspicious of government, that’s why they left,” Coffman added. “They don’t respond to surveys. So it’s very hard to read the survey. I’m clearing doing a lot better than people think.”
Maria Argelia is originally from El Salvador but has lived in Centennial for more than 30 years. She said she voted for Coffman because he tries to help all Hispanics by attempting to work out DACA and temporary protection status for immigrants.
“He’s fighting to make things better,” Argelia said in Spanish. “He is working with all the churches, with schools, with people from our people, our culture.”
Coffman said he will win support from immigrant communities, including those who are registered Democrats (he believes a majority are). He said he’s helped break the image of Republicans as “anti-immigrant.”
“I’ve been able to be in these communities and break that narrative not selling myself as a Republican, selling myself as their congressman,” Coffman said.
Coffman called out Trump for a new ad and said he’s not worried about Republican turnout in Colorado.
Trump this week released a racist ad attempting to link a convicted cop killer and undocumented immigrant to Central American migrants seeking asylum. Coffman was the only Republican member of Colorado’s congressional delegation to respond to Denverite this week.
While Coffman has gotten some flack over his voting record with Trump, who remains unpopular among Colorado voters, he added that he’s had to distance himself from the president when he promotes political messages like the ad.
“That was awful,” Coffman said. “That’s not true. That’s not who those people are.”
He believes there are things that can be done to address the situation, including considering beefing up temporary labor program that could have economic benefits to the U.S.
“There’s a win-win situation here if we plus-up this temporary labor (program) to where we need it, where employers tell me they need it and then dedicate those to those economically distressed areas,” Coffman said.
Numbers from the Secretary of State’s show Republican turnout is lagging somewhat behind the previous midterm election. More than 1.2 million people have already voted as of Friday. Yet Coffman’s spokesperson Tyler Sandberg said that’s not necessarily the case in the 6th.
“They’re performing better in this district than anywhere else in the state,” Sandberg said, adding it’s based on the Secretary’s figures. “It’s better. It’s actually outperforming the rest of the state by a significant margin.”
“Our turnout numbers are pretty good right now,” Coffman said. “I think we’re doing well with unaffiliated voters.”
Coffman’s Democratic opponent, Crow, has a similarly approachable demeanor.
He also stopped by at Thursday’s event, talking and taking photos with people who kept coming up to him.
Crow said he’s done close to 400 community events, so he wasn’t surprised to see people who recognized him. He said the “momentum and enthusiasm,” for his campaign is increasing before election day.
“In less than a week, our community and our country will have the opportunity to choose new leadership that can actually bring a new spirit and optimism to the country, to bring us together instead of (dividing) us,” Crow said.
“That’s what this election is about,” Crow added. “It’s about getting new leadership that can actually solve these problems and we are not within five days of making that happened.”