It took a decorated post-9/11 veteran who campaigned against President Donald Trump and for gun and immigration reform to knock out the Republican who has consistently frustrated Democrats who have believed Colorado’s diverse, urban 6th District should be theirs.
In his win over incumbent Republican Mike Coffman, Democrat Jason Crow gave not so much a victory speech as a statement of purpose. The crowd, boisterous at first, grew solemn when he turned to his values. He spoke several times of the strength he sees in diversity. He described the men and women he fought alongside as being from all races, gay and straight, some not citizens.
“To this day when I think of America, the faces of those soldiers that I fought with come to mind,” he said.
He also thanked Coffman: “He’s a hard worker and he has served his country honorably. Mike Coffman and his supporters are not our enemies. This is politics, not war. I will never stop trying to find common ground when I can.”
In an election that has been as much about Trump as any local issue or candidate, Crow spoke of the “dark and uncertain political moment we find ourselves in.” He accused Trump of dismantling health care, failing to bring sanctions on Russia, trying to ban Muslims from the country and transgender fighters from the military, of stoking bigotry and racism.
“There have been far too many in Congress who have simply allowed that to happen,” he said. “That time is over.”
There was a cry from the crowd at this point: “All right now!”
In his concession speech, Coffman said he paid a “political price” for a Republican being in the White House, which affects midterm races: “I knew this was gonna be a tough race. In this congressional district, in this race, it was a referendum on the president. The waves were too big for this ship to stay afloat.”
He also paid tribute to Aurora and its racial and economic diversity.
“I have learned so much by being a part of their communities,” he said. “Any experience in listening to them and their challenges … has not only made me a respected congressman but a better person.”
Crow decried racism, hatred and violence.
He pledged, “There is a new generation of servant leaders on its way to Washington.” He also said: “It’s time to practice politics with honor, dignity and humility.”
During the campaign, Crow portrayed himself as willing to stand up to Trump and accused Mike Coffman, who has served in congress since 2009, of standing on the sidelines as the president threatened democratic norms. Coffman, who has a long CV of military and political service to his country, ran a dogged, affable style of campaigning.
Crow touted his military service and his experience as a hunter to establish that he was not criticizing law-abiding gun owners when he called for expanding background checks on would-be gun owners, researching the public health implications of gun violence and banning military-style assault weapons. He won endorsement from Gabby Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who became a major gun control advocate after surviving 2011 shooting that left her with a severe brain injury.
While Crow is a lawyer who works for Holland & Hart, a major Denver firm, his political identity was rooted in his military service. He was awarded the Bronze Star for fighting in Iraq, where he led a platoon of 82nd Airborne paratroopers during the U.S. invasion.
After returning from Iraq he joined the 75th Ranger Regiment and served in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border. He left the Army in 2006 as a captain.
Crow took the national political stage in 2012 when he spoke out for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell at the Democratic convention. He was an advisor on military and veterans affairs for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. He chaired the statewide veterans committee that helped bring to Aurora a VA hospital that later became mired in delays and cost overruns.
Coffman and Crow had similar personal narratives.
They spoke of humble beginnings and of military service as both a patriotic duty and a means of personal advancement. Coffman enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17 after finishing his junior year at Aurora Central High School in 1972. He later earned his high school diploma through an Army program and attended the University of Colorado under the G.I. Bill, then ran a property management company.
Coffman was a Marine reservist in the Colorado state house when he chose to take an unpaid leave to return to active duty for the first Gulf War. He saw combat as the executive officer for a light armored infantry company. He resigned as state treasurer in 2005 to return to the Marines for an assignment in Iraq as a civil affairs officer working to strengthen democracy in Iraq.
Both Coffman and Crow have called for immigration reform, a key issue in a heavily immigrant district. Coffman has portrayed himself as a pragmatic, pro-business hometown pick deeply connected to his district.
Crow and his wife, Deserai Anderson Crow, a CU Denver professor specializing in environmental affairs, have two young children.
The 6th District has long been closely fought and drew particular attention and money in a year in which the Democrats were focused on reclaiming the House.
Late in the race, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House leadership, canceled $1 million in TV ads in support of Coffman. That was seen as a signal the national GOP doubted his chances, or at least thought the money could be better spent on other races.
David Sachs contributed to this report.