AURORA |The swing dancers and loud Frank Sinatra impersonator didn’t merit even a glance from Andrew Romanoff at a recent Adams County Fair event. The Democrat paid attention only to voters as he moved from table to table at a breakfast for seniors.
Romanoff has missed political chances before, and he is trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again as he challenges Rep. Mike Coffman for his U.S. House seat in the 6th Congressional District.
The mostly Aurora district was reshaped after the 2010 census, and Democrats say they have an opportunity to take it from the GOP for the first time.
The district is now almost evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans and independents, and it’s also the state’s most ethnically diverse. Latinos make up about 20 percent, and blacks and Asians make up more than 13 percent of the district. Recent immigrants make up a sizable voting bloc in an area where Ethiopian and Korean restaurants share strip malls.
“This district is to me the most exciting in the country,” Romanoff said over lunch recently at a Thai restaurant in Aurora. “It’s home to people from so many different countries and who deserve a representative that celebrates our diversity.”
The comment was a dig at Coffman, who was elected in 2008, when the district was 90 percent white and heavily Republican.
Coffman, a three-term incumbent, has recognized the changes and shifted his approach.
“This is really my first re-election in what is arguably a new district, where 40 percent of the district is areas I haven’t had before,” Coffman said after addressing job-seekers at an Aurora employment fair. “The people in the district are very different. So, yeah, I’ve had to refocus.”
Coffman’s new outreach strategy centers on personal interaction and includes taking Spanish classes, visiting Korean churches and working the counter at an Aurora convenience store to meet voters.
He’s even shifted his stance on core issues, such as immigration. Before the district was reshaped, Coffman sponsored a measure to require English-only ballots and said in 2010 that a proposal to allow permanent residency for some immigrants brought to this country illegally as children would be “a nightmare for the American people.”
More recently, he parted ways with fellow House Republicans to vote against their effort to block President Barack Obama’s plans to temporarily shield immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation.
Romanoff, however, insists Coffman’s immigration views remain out of step with the district, noting that the Republican opposes a path to citizenship for adults in the U.S. illegally. Coffman also opposes in-state college tuition for immigrants brought to the country without legal permission.
In his ambitious challenge, Romanoff is seeking redemption and battling voter apathy.
Five years ago, the former state House speaker appeared headed for an appointment to an open U.S. Senate seat. Instead, he was passed over for Michael Bennet. Romanoff challenged Bennet in the party primary, but lost a race that put him into debt and prompted him to sell his home to cover campaign expenses.
He also needs to excite voters in a midterm election in which there’s no presidential contest to juice turnout.
Attendees at the state fair breakfast showed the difficulty of the task. Older voters are the most likely to turn in ballots in off-year elections, but many seemed uncertain about heading to the polls in November.
“We’re all tired of hearing, ‘I promise, I promise,'” said Darlene Shepherd of Thornton, a 69-year-old retiree and independent voter. “People are always saying they’re going to do something, but nothing changes for us.”
Westminster retiree Bill Musgrove, 79, said, “They promise you this, then when they get in office, they do their own thing.”
Romanoff and Coffman have each raised more than $3 million. With millions more coming from outside political groups, the race could become the most expensive congressional contest in Colorado history.