First-time political candidate Jason Crow ousted his opponent, Levi Tillemann, by a 66-to-34 margin in the primaries and will face off against Republican Congressman Mike Coffman in November. Crow ran on a solidly progressive Democratic platform, playing to positive politics (he mostly ignored Tillemann's accusations and insults), and he's taken a pledge to not accept corporate PAC money. National and local Democrats think Crow, an attorney and former Army ranger, is the right candidate to take down Coffman; the 39-year-old Iraq War veteran is a stark contrast from Coffman's previous Democratic challengers.
But Crow faces a formidable opponent in Coffman, the five-term congressman who represents the 6th District, which encompasses Aurora. Coffman is a savvy politician who has tried to balance supporting GOP-centric policies while verbally pushing back against President Donald Trump, particularly on immigration issues. Coffman's anti-Trump rhetoric has notably stepped up in recent weeks, perhaps in the lead-up to November's election, one that is expected to be difficult for the Aurora native to win.
While Coffman's support in certain immigrant communities is deeply entrenched, Crow believes Coffman hasn't done enough to distance himself from the commander-in-chief. With the primary now in the past, Crow is gearing up for what is likely to be a close general election this fall, one that could determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the House of Representatives next year.
We caught up with Crow at his campaign office, two days after securing the victory over Tillemann.
Westword: What's your feeling with the primary in the past now? Is it a sense of relief?
Jason Crow: I'm mostly very happy that we won, and that we won by a commanding margin. I think what that shows is that the way we conducted our campaign — our very positive, issue-based message — resonated with voters. People are not looking for, at the local level, what's coming out of D.C. People are sick of the drama. They're sick of the dysfunction. Sick of the constant fighting and the vitriol. They're really looking for someone to rise above that and then have a positive, unifying vision and focus on the issues that they're dealing with every day.
You mostly seemed to ignore Levi Tillemann's haymakers and, at times, insults. Is that how you plan to approach things with Congressman Coffman as well?
Every phase of the campaign is unique. I think we were very clear from this campaign from day one that we were going to focus on unifying the party and focus on issues. I think we're going to continue that; we're certainly going to do that. But we now also have to make the case as to why Mike Coffman has turned his back on voters in the district. And we've been doing that also in the last past year-plus. But now we're focusing on the final four and a half months here, and the match-up is clear. This is about accountability — holding Donald Trump and Mike Coffman accountable — as much as it is about telling people what our vision is. Because just holding [Trump and Coffman] accountable is not going to help us win this race. It's not going to go to the voters and the unaffiliated voters in this district and tell them how we're going to make their lives and their families better. We've got to make both cases.
Are there any ways the campaign will change now that you're in the general election?
We have a great team, and I think we're going to keep on doing what we're doing, because it's working. People are responding really well to it. I'm the same person I was fourteen months ago; maybe I have a little bit less hair than I did when I started this. My vision is clear. My wife and I are very certain about who we are and what our values are, and those haven't changed, and we're going to continue to keep on our message and tell people about the change that we represent and that we're going to bring to this district.
What were you feeling at 6:45 on Tuesday night, just before polls closed and the first results were released?
I'm not somebody who takes anything for granted. I always fight until the last minute. We were getting votes, we were making calls, we were chasing ballots, we were doing everything that we needed to do to make sure we brought the win home for us. And that's the same approach that we're going to take over the next four and a half months. We're going to leave no stone unturned. We're going to go everywhere in the district. We're going to talk to everybody: Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliateds. We're going to make the case to everybody, and that's how we're going to win.
There have been other Democrats in this same position several election cycles in a row, yet Coffman has prevailed each time. Why are you different?
I'm not looking back; I'm just looking forward. We live in a very different world than we lived in two years ago. I'm a very different candidate. This is my first time running for office. I bring a different message. I have a different background. I'm from a working-class background, [from the] construction [job I had] to put me through college, to my experience leading American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, to serving veterans and working to address the substance-abuse crisis in Colorado. I'm the type of candidate that I think those regular folks out there in the district [see], who are fed up with the dysfunction that they see on both sides, who say, 'The system is not working for me. Who is looking out for me? Who is listening to me?' Well, that's a big reason why I jumped into this race. I had the same feeling. The system is not serving working families here. We're going to bring new leadership and a new approach to things.
Mike Coffman lives in a different world, too. He campaigned on being a check on Donald Trump. His top TV commercial in 2016 was looking into the camera and promising voters that he would hold Donald Trump accountable. But you fast-forward almost two years, and [Coffman] has a 95 percent voting record with [Trump]. He's failed to uphold that promise. And look at where [Coffman's] money comes from. Millions of dollars come from corporate PACs. Well, 70-plus percent of Coloradans are employed by small and medium businesses. Those aren't the businesses that are cutting $10,000 PAC checks to Mike Coffman. So who's he looking out for? It's not the working families of this community, I know that.
After a negative and divisive campaign, what's your message to the 25,000 or so people who voted for Levi Tillemann? How do you win over those Levi voters that you'll need this fall?
First off, we ran a positive campaign from day one. We stayed focused on our positive vision and the issues that unite us as a party, and we're going to continue to do that. I'm going to continue to be accessible, and I'm running to be the representative for everybody in this district: Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliateds. I'm not the type of leader that says he's only going to represent a certain segment of the community. I want to represent everyone, and that means being accessible, being transparent, listening, learning, having an open mind. I'm going to continue to do that.
The second piece of this is we have a big fight ahead of us. We now have a Supreme Court battle ahead of us. Roe v. Wade is very much at risk. [Republicans are] going to come after the Affordable Care Act, they're going to come after Social Security. They're going to continue to fail on immigration. These are issues where substantial amounts of people in this district, and in this country, are hurting in a very big way. That's what this is about. This is about vastly different visions for what this country should look like twenty years from now. At the end of the day, we have a lot more in common, I think, than some folks might realize, and we have to focus on that.
Have you heard back from Congressman Coffman on the three town halls that you proposed?
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No. I've said repeatedly the fundamental role of an elected official is to be accessible and transparent to the people you represent. He promised to hold a town hall before he took a vote on the Trump tax bill. So he broke that promise. And he did hold [a town hall] shortly after the Parkland shooting. That was four months ago. He's continued to make $180,000 a year on the taxpayer dime in those last four months. ... If any of us were to go to our bosses and say, "I'll check in with you every four, five, six months and let you know what I'm doing," we wouldn't keep our jobs. So here's Coffman. I want to know what he's doing. What is he doing when he goes back to D.C.? I've seen his votes, for one. But he needs to be accountable to the people in this district.
You're going up against a noted top fundraiser, and you did have to spend a fair bit of money to get through the primary. How are things shaping up fiscally for your campaign?
Money is important, obviously, but it's not the only thing that's important. We're focusing a lot on developing our field operation to help get out the vote. We have an army on the ground that we've developed over the past year. Indivisible groups and other community groups that are interested in what we're trying to accomplish are very much engaged. So I think we're focused on that. That said, you're going to see here very soon a very successful fundraising operation. We are raising the money that we need to be competitive in this race, bottom line. We're going to be able to stay competitive with him, and I think that's one of the reasons we'll win.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity.