Rustlers Coffman House.jpg

Then-U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a candidate for Aurora mayor, and former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House, who is now running for the 6th Congressional District seat once held by Coffman, talk at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village before the Denver Rustlers travel to the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo on Aug. 27, 2017, for the group's annual trip to bid in the Junior Livestock Auction.

If Colorado has a place where anything can happen, it's the 6th Congressional District in east-metro Denver.

That makes it impossible to count out Steve House, a conservative to the core in a diverse district that turned its back on moderate Mike Coffman in 2016.

Coffman, a constant winner for 30 years in Colorado politics, was beaten by 11 percentage points by newcomer Jason Crow in a district that has been a battlefield every two years.

The year after that election, a Denver Post writer questioned whether anyone could ever beat Coffman.

Two years later, "ever" came crashing, and now Coffman is running for Aurora mayor.

In 2016, Coffman beat popular former state Sen. Morgan Carroll, now the state Democratic Party chairwoman.

House, a former state Republican Party chairman, brings to the race not only name recognition, but also some intra-party baggage.

He'll have to convince GOP loyalists that he's a bona fide party man, at the same time he convinces moderates and minorities that he's not.

Send me some aspirin and Alka Seltzer. 

It burnished House's GOP credentials in March when sitting U.S. Rep. Ken Buck became the state GOP chair. Buck said before the vote he wanted to bring back House to party leadership, though House opted instead to be a candidate this year. 

House is intensely popular is some quarters of his party, but the feeling is not universal.

He was at the center of one of the most divisive GOP fights in recent memory when former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and then-Attorney General Cynthia Coffman reportedly sought his ouster as state party chair over an alleged extramarital affair.

House denied those rumors, but in a close race, expect Democrats to throw gasoline on those embers of controversy.

Next, House must explain to GOP voters why he urged party members to withhold donations from the National Republican Senatorial Campaign just two years ago.

Embattled U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner leads the committee to elect Republicans to the upper chamber, a fight that will call all conservative hands on deck, if the party is to hang on to the majority, a firewall against Democratic control of Congress.

“We asked them to defund Planned Parenthood. We asked them to defund Obamacare. They did neither. It is time to defund the NRSC until they do what they promised,” House wrote in the 2017 Facebook post, which has since been removed.

But at the same time House also must explain to the moderates and never-Trumpers why he was one of the few Colorado Republicans who did not walk out of the hall on the future president's nomination at the Republican National Convention three years ago.

Soon after the election last November, I met with Coffman to talk about his future and his past. 

Trump, Coffman told me, was too heavy a weight to carry in the 6th Congressional District, which sprawls from the suburban and heretofore conservative planned communities of Douglas County to the more racially diverse and liberal enclaves of Aurora and Adams County.

Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 10 points in the district just two years ago.

The president — with his inflammatory language toward undocumented immigrants, "s-hole" countries and members of Congress who are of African and Hispanic descent — doesn't seem likely to have made up any of that ground.

If House has his bandwagon hitched to Trump, then it appears headed in the wrong direction.

Former state Rep. Pete Covarrubias saw that challenge when he was considering taking on Crow a few months ago.

Unlike House, Covarrubias has won an election before. He also is a union man and a candidate of color, which a Republican in that race would surely need in the current climate of identity politics, he pointed out to me. 

Covarrubias lost his first statehouse re-election race in the Republican primary in 2016. In June he announced he would run for the Adams County Commission instead of Congress.

A Republican of color already exists in the CD6 race. It's Casper Stockham.

Neither state nor national party leaders, however, provided Stockham the money or staff he needed when he took on U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in the neighboring congressional district in 2016 and 2018.

In 2016, Derrick Wilburn, a former vice-chairman of the state Republican Party, wrote a guest column for the Colorado Springs Gazette, lamenting how the media under-reported the news about black Republican candidates, including Stockham. 

Stockham questioned the Buck-House dynamic that could leave him on the outside looking in again in another congressional race.

"My biggest comment is: What did he know and when did he know it regarding this announcement?" Stockham asked via text Tuesday. "Did he know it when the bonus members voted for the Ken Buck team that included Steve House as CEO? If he didn't know it then, why was that not disclosed before the vote?"

The state GOP hasn't pushed a candidate of color across the statewide finish line since former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell was elected.

Campbell, an American Indian, had a political career as a Democrat before he switched parties in 1995 and was re-elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1998, before he retired in 2004.

The same year Campbell was reelected, Republican Victoria Buckley, who is black, was elected secretary of state. She died in office from a heart attack the next year. And Joe Rogers, who is black, was elected Bill Owens' lieutenant governor that year. A change in state law allowed the governor to pick a running mate, and Owens picked Jane Norton in 2002.

Rogers ran and lost a congressional race that year. 

If House, however, represents a stepping stone to Republicans' path back to power in Colorado and Washington, it certainly looks like a bumpy road ahead.

This column was updated to correct that Mike Coffman ran against Morgan Carroll in 2016, not 2014.

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