Jason Crow is making Republicans more than a little nervous.
Shortly after the 38-year-old Democratic lawyer announced his candidacy for Republican Mike Coffman's seat in Colorado's 6th Congressional district, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Jack Pandol launched into a tirade against Crow, telling the Colorado Statesman back in April the following about the Iraqi War veteran:
"Jason Crow will find soon enough that his hot air won't get him very far running against one of the hardest-working independent members of Congress, Mike Coffman," Pandol said. "This election will be a choice between veteran Mike Coffman, who has worked with both sides to produce real results for veterans and working families, and another talking head serving nothing but empty platitudes."
Pandol notably omitted Crow's own decorated military résumé, which earned him a Bronze Star while serving in Iraq in the early 2000s; the harshness of his comments even drew the ire and condemnation of a bipartisan veterans' group. Two weeks later, the respected Cook Political Report moved Coffman's seat from "Leans Republican" to "Toss Up," a reflection of what many believe will be a highly competitive 2018 election between Coffman, who'll be looking for his sixth term, and Crow, the early favorite to win a crowded Democratic primary field that includes entrepreneur Levi Tillemann and lawyer David Aarestad.
Crow is shaping up for his first-ever political fight as he prepares to take on Tillemann and Aarestad in the primaries next summer before potentially challenging Coffman next fall. Crow raised more than $300,000 in second-quarter FEC filings, about double the average congressional candidate for the same time period. But it paled in comparison to the more than $350,000 raised by Coffman, an effective fundraiser who has repeatedly and effectively fought off cash-happy challengers in his last three elections. Coffman is the only member of Congress to have served in both Iraq wars.
But Crow's military service and his outsider status may offer voters a different type of challenger to the former state legislators that have made up each of Coffman's last three opponents. A first-time politician, Crow recently became a partner at his Denver law firm, Holland & Hart, and he also served on Colorado's Board of Veteran Affairs from 2009 to 2014, helping secure funding for the veterans' hospital in Aurora.
"We need to come together. We need to be positive. We need to unify," Crow says. "I have lived in this community for over a decade. I have served with people. I have fought with people, along with a history of advocacy and getting results.
"I have had the benefit of leading lots of different organizations in my time and knowing what it's like to lead folks," he continues. "What I've found is the way you lead is by being positive. By unifying. By helping create a vision of folks that people can get behind, and empowering other people. That's what leadership is like for me. And that's what we need right now."
That's the basis of Crow's pitch to voters: a positive, fresh voice carefully distancing himself from the political doldrums that Americans rebelled against last fall. But in explaining why he decided to run for office after previous stints in politics — he spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and worked on President Barack Obama's re-election campaign that year — it was Donald Trump's election that drove him to run, a common theme for many first-time Democrats running for office.
"We are in a fight for democracy and the future of this country, unlike one we haven't seen in a long time," says Crow, who credits former U.S. Senator Mark Udall and Massachusetts congressman and fellow veteran Seth Moulton as his two main political mentors. "My wife and I woke up the morning after the election, and, I suspect like a lot of folks, just looked at each other and said, 'What are we going to do?'
"We were in shock, in disbelief, and we asked ourselves, 'What are we going to do to fight back on this?' We've seen too many people throughout our lives give too much for this country," he adds. "Sacrificed too much for this country to see it move in this direction."
Trump skepticism may work in the 6th, which is one of only 23 congressional districts (out of 435 nationwide) that voted for Hillary Clinton but also elected a Republican representative last November. Trump's lagging approval ratings and public missteps has many, like Crow, thinking this could be the year to win a seat Democrats have long had their eyes on. It's Trump frustration coupled with Coffman's longevity that has Crow thinking the political environment may be more ripe for change than ever before.
"If you look around, you ask yourself, 'Is our country moving in the right direction? Are our politics working for you and your family?'" Crow says of how he plans to appeal to the roughly 17 percent of 6th District voters who voted for both Clinton and Coffman. "After 28 years of Mike Coffman serving in politics in this community, are we better off? And what I'm hearing in the community talking to folks is no. Our politics are not working for people. People's lives are not better off. And we're not going to simply solve that doing the same thing.
"Mike Coffman has a history of enabling certain rhetoric. He was supporting Trump and the birtherism movement years ago. I remember several years ago when Trump came out and was talking about President Obama and supporting the birtherism movement, calling him un-American. Mike Coffman was doing the same thing."
Crow, however, has recently come under criticism after reports emerged that his law firm defended several potentially less-than-admirable clients, including a loan shark and an oil and gas company accused of killing migratory birds. At the time of the controversial cases, Crow was working as a junior associate. Primary Democratic challenger Tillemann has already hit back at Crow on these allegations, telling Westword earlier this month that there "isn't daylight between what I say on the stump and how I've lived privately or politically."
In one of the cases, that Colorado Politics described as a "payday lending firm," Crow worked on behalf of a Native American tribe, arguing whether tribal sovereignty rules fell under Colorado's business governorship. In the case involving dead migratory birds, the company Crow represented ended up only paying a minor fine and that it didn't involve oil and gas litigation, but rather a Migratory Bird Treaty Act stipulation that says that owners of property where any dead migratory birds are found are subject to fines.
Mostly, though, Crow believes the cases are being intentionally overblown for political benefit.
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"This is, in part, the politics that I'm running this race to fight against," says Crow, who is under contract for a new home in the 6th's District borders (he currently lives just west of the district lines, in Denver) and will move in by the end of the year. "[These] types of mudslinging, misleading allegations, the political gamesmanship, this is the type of stuff that has brought us to the political dysfunction that we're at today.
"I will put my record of community service and commitment to this community and country up against anybody in this race," he continues. "I have used my work in the legal field to serve underprivileged communities. I have given hundreds of hours of my time to serve veterans and to serve people recovering from substance abuse in this community. I have served small and medium businesses in this community. It's a natural extension of what I did in the army. I served in the army to protect and defend the constitution. I have taken numerous oaths throughout my life, and I have always taken those oaths seriously and the rule of law and the constitution and due process mean a lot to me. I've seen people sacrifice for those things."
Crow points to a slew of recent big-name endorsements from prominent local officials representing a slew of positions, including Udall, former governor Bill Ritter, former senator Ken Salazar and former Bernie Sanders Colorado political director JoyAnn Ruscha, as signs that he can unite the party in the common goals of breaking the establishment mold in a potentially beneficial political environment — one that he and Democrats hope can finally solve the long-running Coffman riddle.
"This campaign is about unifying folks and unifying the party to win," says Crow, who adds that rising living costs in the 6th is one of the top issues he wants to tackle should he be elected. "Clearly, there are some folks that see me as the candidate that can beat Mike Coffman. That's why I've raised a lot of eyebrows, and certainly the Republicans seem to be afraid of me and my candidacy, because I think I bring a very different challenge to Mike Coffman and anything he's ever seen. It's going to be a different campaign."