WINNING OVER WOMEN: Coffman, Carroll spar over what Colorado women care about and who would best fight for them in Congress

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AURORA | The race to win Aurora’s 6th Congressional District seat may not only be fought over issues affecting women, but defining what those issues are and how they appeal to women voters.

Incumbent Republican Congressman Mike Coffman held a “working women” event last week in Greenwood Village and had former Hewlett Packard CEO and Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina appear to illustrate how she, and he, see the role of women in business — and the upcoming election.

Coffman appealed less to traditional so-called women’s issues than to the women’s experiences as small business owners and professionals.

“A lot of people think of me as having a military background, but I also have a small business background,” Coffman said, recounting his struggles to break into entrepreneurship coming out of the Marine Corps with no business experience to speak of. “I got so frustrated … I ended up taking my savings from having served overseas and put it down on a small business idea, where I learned how to balance a budget, meet a payroll and run an organization efficiently enough to make a profit — a quality not readily found in Washington, D.C.”

But Coffman’s opponent, Sen. Morgan Carroll, says such outreach efforts show just how out of touch both Coffman and Fiorina are with the reality facing women in Aurora, and all of Colorado.

Coffman has systematically reached out to minority voters in the swing district over the past few years, but pundits say women voters could be critical during this election down ticket from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Polls show Trump trailing in the quest to secure college educated women, and some Republicans worry that these women voters might sit this election out, or vote Democrat in down-ticket races.

While both Coffman and Carroll are working to shore up key constituencies, particularly immigrants this year, Carroll said she isn’t she isn’t planning on holding any women-centric events anytime soon.

“I really believe my record speaks for itself, and his record speaks for itself, too,” Carroll said of Coffman. “He’s not been voting with the majority women’s interest in this state or country. He has to come up with marketing shtick in order to cloak his record on women.”

Carroll has represented Aurora for the past 12 years in the state Legislature, including previously serving as Senate Minority Leader. She points to accomplishments during her time there such as expanding child care access, adding maternity coverage to health insurance policies and supporting a state program giving teens and poor women access to long-acting birth control such as intrauterine devices.

Carroll has been endorsed by pro-choice women’s organizations such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Emily’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado in this race.

She also points to her own experience as one of the few women in Colorado to serve as the state’s Senate President, and to growing up with a mother who was the first person in her family to earn a college education.

“The experience my mom had can’t be replicated now,” Carroll said. “You can’t get ahead just by working hard, getting good grades. That matters not just for women, but it matters for anybody who isn’t starting from a place of privilege.”

Carroll said she is focused on expanding economic opportunities for everybody, including women, in the congressional district that encompasses Aurora and much of Arapahoe County.

“The biggest problem we’re facing in government and elected office now, at the end of the day, it’s about the people we’re serving and whether they’re getting their needs met,” she said.

Coffman’s Spokeswoman Cinamon Watson said NARAL and Emily’s List are hyper-partisan organizations that are extensions of the Democratic Party. She noted that healthcare and small business issues are women’s issues too.

“Morgan Carroll has made a living in the sleaziest law firms in Denver, who sue women doctors and nurses, women-run hospitals, and women-run small businesses,” she said, referring to Carroll’s work with the personal injury law firm Bachus & Schanker.

Watson pointed to Coffman being the first Republican this year to sponsor the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which helps protect pregnant employees from discrimination by requiring employers to make a reasonable accommodations so pregnant workers can continue working rather than be forced to leave their jobs. Last year, Coffman introduced a bill that  would increase gender-specific access to health care within the Department of Veterans Affairs, noting the number women getting care from the VA has doubled in the last decade.

But last year, Coffman voted to defund Planned Parenthood, citing undercover footage of Planned Parenthood that months later found no wrongdoing by the abortion provider. Watson did not respond to request for comment on how he would vote on the issue today.

Denver Political Analyst Floyd Ciruli said social issues surrounding women have mostly been in the background of this year’s presidential and congressional campaigns, but that doesn’t mean Coffman isn’t feeling the backlash of running on the same ticket as Donald Trump.

“Hillary Clinton is winning women voters, including white women voters much more than normal,” Ciruli said. “Partially it’s a reflection of a woman running for president, but more, it’s a reflection of Trump’s problems.”

While Coffman has in a TV advertisement distanced himself from Trump saying he doesn’t “think much” of the controversial GOP presidential nominee, he has not said publicly he won’t vote for him, allowing Democrats to continue handcuff Coffman to Trump in the same way Coffman’s campaign is working to bind Carroll to Clinton.

When asked whether he endorsed Trump at this point in the race, Watson did not directly answer the question and instead pointed to Coffman’s endorsement of former candidate Marco Rubio last December.

“Unlike his opponent, Mike has been critical of both major party candidates running for president,” Watson said.

What pundits aren’t sure about is whether the Clinton ties are a boon or a bane to Carroll’s campaign to win the votes of women in the district.

Norman Provizer, a political science professor with Metropolitan State University, agreed Coffman may be working extra hard this year to win over his district’s women voters, given Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has done such a good job of alienating them.

“Women tend to at least make up 51 percent of voters in most places,” Provizer said. “You have a real issue when you start alienating half of the population. You’re really alienating a majority of the voters in an election.”

Provizer said women pose a challenge for Republicans each election because they tend to swing Democratic.

“In national polls, if Democrats didn’t do extremely well among women, they wouldn’t be winning any election,” he added.

Aurora Sentinel Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson contributed to this story.