Candidates Fight for Immigrant Support in the 6th Congressional District Race

Candidates Fight for Immigrant Support in the 6th Congressional District Race
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Immigration is, perhaps, the most polarizing topic in modern American politics, and President Trump's focus on legal and illegal immigration and the political polarization his policies and rhetoric have generated in his first nineteen months in office have made it an especially hot-button topic that stirs debate in dive bars and on Capitol Hill alike.

The 6th Congressional District race, however, is not so much of a battle over immigration as much as it is a battle for immigrants themselves. It's one of the increasingly rare American political races where both Democrats and Republicans are actively, openly and successfully courting votes from immigrant communities. And the fight between Republican incumbent Mike Coffman and Democrat Jason Crow over the district that encompasses Aurora could even flip the House of Representatives this fall.

The 6th's diverse array of immigrants could very well determine this fall's winner — a fact that both campaigns clearly understand. An estimated 15 percent of CO-6 residents were born outside the U.S.

Coffman's first two campaign ads for this fall's general election highlight a Chinese-American woman, with appearances from members of other immigrant groups, while the second ad focuses entirely on Ethiopians and Eritreans.

click to enlarge Congressman Mike Coffman is probably facing the toughest race of his political career this fall. - BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE
Congressman Mike Coffman is probably facing the toughest race of his political career this fall.
Buckley Air Force Base
"I think [Coffman] is completely different than a lot of other Republicans running around the country and completely different from the president," Coffman campaign manager Tyler Sandberg says. "He honors and wants to celebrate the diversity in this district. He doesn't find that this is somehow a harm to this district; it's one of its greatest strengths."

That said, Coffman's opening ads perhaps also signal a degree of concern in the age of Trump, and that at least some support in those communities could be at risk this fall.

The limited polling in this race has shown that Crow is tied or even narrowly ahead of the five-term congressman. Barring a political miracle or a Crow debacle, Coffman isn't winning this race by the eight percentage points he won it by in 2018, and he's never faced a national environment nearly as challenging as the one facing the GOP this fall.

"I think [the TV ads] show two things: number one, I think [Coffman] understands that the way we've run our campaign, in the current environment with the Trump administration's assault on those communities, [that] he does not feel as strong there as he wants to be or needs to be," Crow says. "Number two, he's going to try to focus on anything except for his 96 percent voting record with Donald Trump in D.C. Everything he's going to do is going to try to change conversation away from his actual voting record and what policies he's supporting and the fact that's he failed in fulfilling the fundamental promise of his last campaign last cycle, which was to stand up to Donald Trump. He has not done that."

"Because of that, Congressman Mike Coffman has pretty much become a household name in the Ethiopian community worldwide."

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Democrats are trying to poke holes in Coffman's distancing from Trump. Recently, the Washington Post released a tape of Coffman saying that Trump "probably has a more generous plan for DACA than I would [propose].” Sandberg says the tape was taken out of context and that Coffman's voting record on immigration speaks for itself, but Democrats say it shows Coffman is more in sync with Trump than he lets on.

“Mike Coffman was caught parroting Donald Trump's talking points on immigration just two weeks ago," says Crow spokesman Mitch Schwartz. "Now he’s eager to distract from his 96 percent pro-Trump voting record — and his failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform."

It's important to note that immigrant voting tendencies can't be lumped together. The concerns of the Hindu community (CO-6 is home to Colorado's largest Hindu community, largely in Centennial), for example, are substantially different from those in the Chinese community, which are different than those in the Latin American community, and different still from the Ethiopian and Eritrean community's concerns. Some of these communities arrived in Colorado after being pushed out by extreme left- and right-wing governments in their countries of origin, and some came for religious reasons, creating an assortment of bases — and voting patterns — this fall.

Crow could be at a disadvantage this fall simply because of time. Coffman has spent years building his support in various immigrant communities, from conducting regular Spanish-language TV and radio interviews to making regular weekend appearances at churches, mosques and temples. As a first-time candidate for elected office, Crow simply doesn't have the same roots.

Coffman is frequently credited by immigrant groups for bucking his party on immigration-related issues and for taking up political causes of their own, along with accessibility.

click to enlarge Jason Crow - EVENTBRITE
Jason Crow
"Coffman has done a very good job of outreaching in the community," says Harry Budisidharta, executive director of the Asian Pacific Development Center.

"[Coffman] comes to events, he interacts well with the [Asian-American and Pacific Islander] community, and that level of engagement has really given him a lot of credit," says Clarence Low, president and CEO of the Asian Chamber of Commerce Colorado. "In my opinion, the majority of AAPIs who live within that district would support Congressman Coffman because he's been there for so long and he's outreached well into that community."

Coffman's support in the Ethiopian community, in particular, seems to have strengthened since we first wrote about his cross-ticket popularity in this community last November. The congressman is apparently a household name in east Africa, according to one prominent Coffman supporter in the community, largely due to the April passage of House Resolution 128, which pressured the authoritarian Ethiopian government to stop "the killing of peaceful protesters and excessive use of force by Ethiopian security forces." Coffman was one of five original co-sponsors of the legislation (along with four Democrats), earning him praise and support from the local community.

"[Coffman] has delivered on his promise," to help pass the bill, says Neb Asfaw, co-founder of the Ethiopian-American Civic Council. "The congressman was relentless in fighting it. He worked with Democrats and Republicans to the point that we were able to get 114 co-sponsors for the resolution across party lines.

"Because of that, Congressman Mike Coffman has pretty much become a household name in the Ethiopian community worldwide," he continues. "Everybody knows him in Ethiopia."

Another factor that may play into Coffman's hands this fall is the fact that partisanship in immigrant communities is generally not nearly as intense as it is among native-born Americans. While Trump's support in most of these communities is low, Coffman's remains significantly higher, something that may carry him to victory this fall despite Trump's heading the Republican Party.

But Crow's party alliance and his on-the-ground campaigning in immigrant communities is earning him fans, too.

"I am supporting Jason because I know for a fact that he would be supportive of my community," says Maytham Alshadood, an Iraqi American who served as a combat interpreter for American armed forces during the second Iraq War. "I was fortunate to come here to the United States and the side of safety. But recent estimates say there are 60,000 to 100,000 applications of people just like me that are still stuck in Iraq. What is Mike Coffman doing to bring them home? Nothing. Where does Jason Crow stand on that issue? Jason wants to bring these people home. So of course I would be supportive of Jason, and not someone else.

"Mike Coffman's record indicates he's more aligned with Donald Trump than anyone else within Colorado's congressional delegation," Alshadood continues. "He is not acting as a check [on Trump]."
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Chris Bianchi is a Westword contributor interested in politics.
Contact: Chris Bianchi