Mike Coffman a quieter Tom Tancredo, Miklosi camp says of birther line

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Update: As we reported in our original coverage below, 6th Congressional District rep Mike Coffman made the wrong kind of news via audio of him questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States; hear it below. That's the kind of ammo prized by election opponents. And Joe Hamill, campaign manager for Joe Miklosi, who'll be facing off against Coffman in November, takes great pleasure in firing it.

Toward the end of his remarks at a May 12 fundraiser in Elbert County, Coffman said, "I don't know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don't know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he's not an American. He's just not an American." He subsequently issued an apology, saying, "I misspoke" -- a popular excuse among politicians. But that's not good enough for Hamill.

"This is normally stuff you hear from Rush Limbaugh -- real far-right stuff," Hamill says. "I guess we're seeing Coffman's true colors -- when the cameras are off. And for a sitting member of Congress to undermine the presidency like that -- not just this president, but the office of the presidency -- is irresponsible and offensive. A guy like Coffman should seriously know better."

Miklosi, as well as progressive activists, have tried to paint Coffman as a fringe character for quite some time now, but the accusation hasn't stuck. Why not?

"I think up until this point, he's shown himself to be a pretty savvy politician," Hamill maintains. "He doesn't put himself out there very much. The thing that separates him from folks we know of as extreme is that they're louder than he is -- and he's been able to fly under the radar in a district that was safely his."

Indeed, the 6th has long been one of the most reliably Republican CDs in the state, as witnessed by the success of Coffman's predecessor, Tom Tancredo -- a politician who's never shied away from making controversial statements. Last year, however, the boundary lines were redrawn, and most observers, Hamill included, believe the results will be a much more competitive race.

Because of the new-look 6th's make-up, Coffman "is going to be the focus of a lot more questions," Hamill believes. "And throughout the campaign, people will be introduced to a new picture of Coffman -- a real picture of Coffman. If folks thought the extremism of Tancredo was gone, they'll find out he was really just replaced by a quieter version."

Hamill stresses that even before Coffman's comments broke, the Miklosi campaign "has been picking up speed. We are finding a ton of support from a bunch of folks, including our national friends" -- a reference to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's recent decision to include the race in "Red to Blue," a program that will bring with it added attention and funding. He believes the face-off is going to be a "really big bellwether in this country. And we think we'll have the ability to reintroduce Coffman to folks he hasn't represented before and hold him responsible for his record."

Page down to see our earlier coverage, and hear the Coffman recording. Original item, 9:25 a.m. May 17: Mike Coffman reps the 6th Congressional District, a mega-safe Republican CD until last year, when its lines were redrawn. Is the seat now more competitive? This theory is being put to the test by Coffman comments about Barack Obama's citizenship status that offered red meat to Birther Nation even as they provided his Democratic opponent, Joe Miklosi, with an opportunity to hang him with the extremist tag he's managed to avoid to date.

The take in question broke on 9News last night. At a May 12 fundraiser in Elbert County hosted by fellow Representative Cory Gardner, Coffman said, "I don't know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don't know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he's not an American. He's just not an American."

The comments can be heard in context in the YouTube clip below.

Coffman promptly offered an I'm-sorry to 9News, saying in a statement, "I misspoke and I apologize. I have confidence in President Obama's citizenship and legitimacy as President of the United States." However, he added, "I don't believe the president shares my belief in American Exceptionalism. His policies reflect a philosophy that America is but one nation among many equals. As a Marine, I believe America is unique and based on a core set of principles that make it superior to other nations."

This situation would likely have done no real damage to Coffman in the 6th as previously constituted. After all, his predecessor in the job was Tom Tancredo, who was a font of politically incorrect remarks but never paid the price at the ballot box; he won four times before deciding not to run for the office again, opening the way for Coffman.

Are things different now? Miklosi certainly hopes so, since he's been trying to paint Coffman as a divisive far-right figure. During an interview with yours truly in November, he described Coffman as "a do-nothing member of Congress. He's focused on Medicare destruction, comparing Social Security to a Ponzi scheme and pursuing a narrow, radical social agenda that doesn't reflect Colorado or our values. He serves on a small business committee where over 103 bills were introduced to help small businesses grow, and he didn't want to sponsor any of them. He'd rather spend his time on English-only ballots, not representing the district -- and he deserves to be fired."

Joanne Kron, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, visits this same theme. Via e-mail, she writes: "Extreme and divisive comments from Congressman Coffman are not unique to this one incident. He continues to pander to the far right and it's getting harder for him to backpedal. Coffman's redrawn district is much more diverse than the one that elected him and I expect him to see consequences in November."

Kron adds a list she describes as "other examples of his extremism." It includes:

• repeatedly called social security a Ponzi scheme • supported "personhood" in the last election • wanted to pull funding from Peace Corps teaching English in China • supports English-only ballots • supported Perry for president and Ryan for VP.

We've got an interview request in to Miklosi's campaign. When and if his reps respond, we'll update this post. In the meantime, here's Coffman's comments. The quote above is toward the end of the clip, beginning at about the 3:20 mark.

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More from our Shmuck of the Week archive: "Mike Coffman, repeat Shmuck, wants to make it harder for Spanish speakers to vote."

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