DENVER (CN) – Jason Crow is an Army veteran and attorney, but he’s never run for public office. But despite being a newcomer to politics, the Democrat is no underdog in the race against five-term Republican incumbent Mike Coffman for Colorado’s 6th District.
The 6th is a question mark-shaped congressional district that curves around eastern Denver, encompassing the suburbs of Aurora, Centennial and Brighton.
Coffman, also a combat veteran who served in both Iraq conflicts, is the third Republican to represent the district since it was drawn in 1983, first occupying the seat in 2009 following the retirement of conservative firebrand Tom Tancredo.
But in the decade since Coffman first took office, voting habits in the district have shifted toward the center, and even lean left as more liberals and immigrants have settled into the Denver suburbs.
“Coffman has been in a tenuous position for a while now,” said Seth Masket, a political science professor at Denver University. “He’s been vulnerable for several cycles; I think a lot of it is simply the national tide has made it harder for him and because the Democrats found a very strong challenger.”
In 2016, the district widely supported Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and has since been pegged as an important district to flip to help the party gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I hate to sound so partisan but I can’t help it at this point. I can’t vote Republican for anything right now,” said a voter named Anita, who dropped off her ballot off at the Aurora City Hall. She asked that her last name not be used.
“In Washington, I want somebody there like Jason Crow, who I voted for, who I think will be there for us and will institute change,” Anita said.
An estimated $17 million has been poured into both campaigns, but as the election draws near the bigger headline is who’s lost funding. The Associated Press reported Republican super PAC the Congressional Leadership Fund pulled $3.1 million in advertising from Coffman and Michigan Rep. Mike Bishop in September. The National Republic Congressional Committee pulled another $1 million earlier this month, according to Politico.
If Coffman loses, Masket said it will reflect national tides and not necessarily anything he did or didn’t do while in office.
“A lot of [Coffman’s] outreach in recent years to go beyond his Republican constituency has been to immigrant groups, to racial minority groups,” Masket said. “As Donald Trump has become the face of the Republican party, they don’t want as much to do with Republicans. What work Coffman has done there has been undermined by the image of Donald Trump.”
The U.S. Census estimates that immigrants make up 15 percent of the 6th District’s nearly 815,000 residents. Twenty percent of the district identifies as Hispanic, with a majority tracing their roots to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
In a debate this month, Coffman highlighted his work for immigrant families and his desire to see a citizenship solution for “Dreamers” under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established by the Obama administration. While Coffman has attempted to reach beyond his party, his conservative base has not completely disappeared.
“I think he’s done for the most part what the 6th District wants,” said Brett Stuck, a precinct captain for the Colorado Republican Party. “We want less government intrusion, lower taxes, and fair representation in the House.”
Coffman’s campaign team did not respond to inquiries for comment.
Crow often rebukes Coffman for failing to stand up to Trump as he promised in his last campaign – a message voters critical of the Trump administration identify with.
“[Coffman] supports Donald Trump and Donald Trump doesn’t show compassion,” said Ennis Washington, a registered Independent and veteran of the Vietnam War. “In fact, Donald Trump is a divider and he stirred up a lot of hatred; it was already there and he stirred it up.”
He added: “What made me support Democrats overall [in this election] is because the Democrats have more compassion. Republicans lack compassion for what people really need and are trying to accomplish in their lives. They have no compassion and in fact, I don’t think they really care.”
While several early polls put Crow ahead of Coffman, Democrats are trying to temper their excitement.
“Polls will go up and down, but they’ll never change our approach,” said Crow campaign communications director Mitch Schwartz. “Jason won’t rest until every voter in CD-6 has heard about his plan to bring servant leadership back to Washington.”