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Why Colorado's 6th district is 2018 battleground

In the past, Democrats have poured millions of dollars in Colorado's 6th District to unseat incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), with little success. Now, Democratic challenger and combat veteran Jason Crow is on the ballot, and strategists say if he can win, Democrats can feel confident about taking back the House. CNN's Dana Bash reports.

Posted: Sep 22, 2018 1:04 AM
Updated: Sep 22, 2018 1:06 AM

Republican Rep. Mike Coffman is sitting in a church communicating with a group of Spanish-speaking parishioners in their native tongue with a heavy American accent.

He quietly listens to their questions, answering them slowly and methodically. The parishioners are constituents he desperately needs to vote for him if he has any chance of winning re-election in his suburban Denver seat in November.

Colorado's 6th District is the ultimate battleground. For years, Democrats have poured millions of dollars in here to try to beat Coffman, but always fall short. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won here by 9 percentage points, but Coffman still won re-election by more than 8 points.

This year, Democrats on a national level are looking to this district as a bellwether, and the party has a poster candidate for a nominee -- Jason Crow, a combat veteran. If Democrats can finally win here, strategists say, they feel confident about taking back the House.

For Republicans, the race is a test of whether an incumbent congressman who has crafted a strong personal brand in an increasingly diverse district can survive an election where the enthusiasm is clearly on the Democratic side.

So Coffman is relying on his political survival skills that have helped him win against all odds in the past. Being there for his diverse district is Coffman's calling card.

To signal a kinship with his Mexican and Salvadoran American constituents, Coffman hired a Spanish tutor, with whom he studies every Sunday for two hours. She sits with him at his event, and he turns to her when he needs a language lifeline.

The Hispanic community is just one of the large ethnic enclaves in his district, and Coffman knows it. He had just come from a visit with the Chinese community, and is next headed to an Ethiopian celebration, where he will be greeted as a rock star because of the time and effort he has spent helping combat human rights abuses in Ethiopia.

"With this President, this midterm is going to be rough for Republicans. It's those members of Congress that have established a brand in their district, that is independent of quite frankly, of the party in Washington, DC, that are going to survive this," Coffman told CNN in an interview here.

"They don't see me as a Republican, or they don't see me in a partisan way. They just see me as their congressman," Coffman said.

The Trump factor

Crow is taking every opportunity he has to tie Coffman to President Trump, whose immigration policies, chaotic approach to governing, and often crass tone has made him unpopular with key voting blocs here -- from ethnic groups to independent suburban women.

He's never run for office before, which is something he emphasizes as he goes door to door making his pitch to voters.

"I'm a first-time candidate, I've never run for anything before but I feel really strongly about the direction our country is going in," Crow tells Esperanza Valle, while standing on her front stoop.

He won't take PAC money and is running hard against everything Washington, even his own party leadership.

"From day one of this campaign, I've been very clear, this is about bringing the new generation of leadership to Washington to turn the page and to move us forward as a country. We have this culture of partisanship that has delivered dysfunction and lack of progress, right? And this applies for Democrats and Republicans, right?" Crow tells us in an interview.

"I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi," he says.

But Crow insists he will be able to beat Coffman this year -- something previous Democratic candidates failed to do in the past four elections -- for one reason: the man in the White House.

"We live in a very different world than we lived in just two years ago. Donald Trump is President of the United States," Crow said flatly.

In television ads blanketing the airwaves, Democrats paint Coffman in grainy black and white footage as a Trump puppet.

Coffman has worked hard to distance himself from Trump -- on everything from immigration policies to the President's twitter tirades.

"When they were separating families on the border, I certainly was one who protested that -- against the administration -- went down to the border to see what was occurring myself with those families, and the Administration stopped that policy," Coffman told us.

"When the President went to Europe I did statements of support, when he talked to the Europeans. Statements of opposition when he met with Putin in private."

But even so, he admitted, Trump is a big drag on his candidacy.

"There are people that are going to be swept up in a partisan lens, that probably there's not a whole lot I can say," he said.

"It's less about his policies than it is about his tone. College educated independent women, just really are offended by his tone and his mannerisms in the office. So it's baked in now." Coffman said, with resignation in his voice.

Independents are the majority here

Maybe more than any other race this year, it is all about independents in Colorado's 6th district. The district is growing so much, so fast, they now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans here.

John and Meredith Brackney were registered Republicans, but left the party after Trump was elected, and say they're not alone.

"We personally know dozens of them, well respected Republicans [who left the GOP]. They want nothing to do with that man," said John Brackney.

He was a local GOP elected official in this suburban district, has known Coffman for years and is leaning towards voting for him. But he also says it's "conceivable" that he will not.

"The only question is, is my disappointment in the President so significant that I wanna vote all the way down the ticket against Republicans," Brackney said, explaining his struggle.

His wife Meredith, who has voted for both Republicans and Democrats all of her life, is surer about her approach this year.

"I'm probably voting for the Democrat. I'm hoping for a blue wave. I think we need checks and balances, and right now we don't have any. And so, I'm planning on pretty much all Democrat," said Meredith Brackney.

Independent voter Ann Santos says she's still undecided about whether to vote Republican or Democrat in the House race here in November, but also says her vote is really going to be a protest against President Trump.

"He is so destructive, he is so divisive," Santos says of the president.

She also expresses a sentiment building for years among voters -- especially independents. She is disgusted with the chaos of Washington, and wants a change, and likes the fact that Crow has never run for office before.

"That is a plus for me. 'Cause that means that he is still wanting my vote, he is very interested in what the regular person wants. I guess yeah, I think he would be more in touch with the everyday person," Santos said.

Same goes for Dayna Kreutzer, another independent voter here who says Coffman has done a good job for the district, but thinks it's time for fresh ideas in Washington.

"I think it's time for a change. I think we're getting too set in our ways, and we need to make changes," said Kreutzer.

Battle tested

First-time candidate Crow, the Democrat, plays up his military service on the campaign trail and weaves it into his narrative.

"This is a battle for the soul of America. Two very different visions of what America is about and who we will become. I learned what the soul of America is when I served with my fellow soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I think of America, the faces of those young men and women pop into my mind," Crow told a group of supporters before they fanned out to knock on doors on his behalf.

Though Coffman doesn't talk about it as much, he, too, is a veteran. He is the only member of Congress to serve in both Iraq wars, first in the Army, then the Marines.

He says he is falling back on his Marine training for much needed stamina in this political race. He tries to do 500 pushups each day and dropped and gave us 20 for our camera.

But it's his experience on the front lines of politics -- being in a neck-and-neck race in this district several times before -- that he hopes really makes a difference.

"In a bad political environment, [we] are more likely to survive than people that suddenly find themselves in headwinds that they've never experienced before," he told us.

Coffman calls it being "battle tested."

As competitive races go, Coffman believes he is doing everything he can. Republicans in Washington say he is doing everything right.

But this year, it may not be enough -- thanks to President Trump. He says it used to drive him crazy that his own fate is so tied to Trump, whom he says he did not vote for.

Now?

"You know at this point, I'm resigned to it," Coffman said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 453808

Reported Deaths: 6131
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin941381495
Ramsey40509748
Dakota33463350
Anoka31283368
Washington20471234
Stearns18051190
St. Louis13916247
Scott1213098
Wright11756107
Olmsted1073975
Sherburne827868
Carver703139
Clay657684
Rice621170
Kandiyohi556772
Blue Earth546833
Crow Wing489178
Otter Tail463167
Chisago458138
Benton423288
Winona394248
Douglas378466
Nobles374447
Mower372129
Goodhue355362
Polk330660
McLeod327947
Beltrami315048
Morrison314145
Lyon304738
Becker288839
Itasca287143
Isanti284842
Carlton283543
Steele278510
Pine269614
Freeborn253623
Todd233130
Nicollet227938
Brown217434
Mille Lacs215045
Le Sueur213516
Cass210524
Meeker201233
Waseca192816
Wabasha17413
Martin171726
Roseau166317
Hubbard150238
Redwood141027
Houston139814
Dodge13864
Renville138040
Chippewa132332
Cottonwood128918
Fillmore12646
Wadena120218
Rock111912
Aitkin111233
Sibley10947
Faribault108816
Watonwan10688
Pennington101016
Kanabec99318
Pipestone96423
Yellow Medicine94916
Murray9096
Jackson87310
Swift84418
Pope7465
Stevens7078
Marshall70315
Clearwater68714
Lake66315
Lac qui Parle66016
Wilkin6349
Koochiching60310
Lincoln4892
Big Stone4693
Unassigned44568
Grant4388
Norman4258
Mahnomen4147
Kittson37320
Red Lake3204
Traverse2613
Lake of the Woods1961
Cook1150

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 310915

Reported Deaths: 4432
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46760465
Linn18037279
Scott15838172
Black Hawk14076243
Woodbury13111181
Johnson1228552
Dubuque11615159
Pottawattamie9146115
Dallas907772
Story879438
Cerro Gordo472572
Webster472077
Sioux459657
Warren458039
Clinton457768
Marshall430762
Buena Vista396230
Muscatine395878
Des Moines394943
Plymouth352870
Wapello349898
Jasper331659
Lee324132
Marion308953
Jones274650
Henry267331
Carroll258234
Bremer249848
Crawford234324
Washington222933
Boone222717
Benton213050
Mahaska197637
Jackson194932
Tama190159
Dickinson188329
Kossuth178544
Delaware176036
Clay172021
Wright166624
Fayette165924
Hamilton162230
Buchanan162024
Winneshiek160820
Harrison158162
Hardin156931
Cedar155519
Clayton153849
Butler150924
Page146415
Floyd141436
Cherokee140027
Mills138517
Lyon137533
Poweshiek134924
Hancock131524
Allamakee130930
Iowa127722
Madison123610
Calhoun12349
Grundy122528
Jefferson122125
Winnebago121729
Mitchell116837
Louisa116230
Cass114843
Chickasaw113712
Appanoose112440
Sac112015
Emmet111232
Union111023
Humboldt106619
Shelby105427
Guthrie104224
Franklin103318
Unassigned10110
Palo Alto91711
Montgomery88324
Keokuk86326
Howard85519
Monroe82220
Clarke8108
Pocahontas78111
Ida75930
Davis70121
Greene6977
Adair69620
Monona67018
Lucas66610
Osceola64711
Worth6184
Taylor5999
Fremont5246
Van Buren50215
Decatur4964
Ringgold44811
Audubon4218
Wayne41921
Adams2993
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