Jason Crow has gotten used to being a target.
The attorney and Army Ranger veteran who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan last year found himself in one of the most contested congressional races in the country when the Democrat challenged five-term Republican and fellow veteran Mike Coffman in the Aurora-based 6th Congressional District, this decade’s perennial battleground seat in Colorado.
Riding the blue wave that crashed over the state, Crow accomplished something a few Democrats had decided could be impossible, handing Coffman a defeat at the ballot box for the first time in 30 years.
The list of vanquished Coffman opponents is long and includes luminaries from both parties. Since he lost his first run for office, a bid for an at-large seat on the Aurora City Council, the politician managed to rack up what is likely an unmatched unbroken string of wins in Colorado.
He was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives and state Senate from the storied Arapahoe County seats that were previously held by Bill Owens. Coffman then followed his neighbor into the state treasurer’s office when Owens was elected governor.
Next came a win in a close election for secretary of state against Democrat Ken Gordon. Then Coffman won a hotly contested primary for the Republican nomination in the 6th District after Tom Tancredo retired, before the last round of redistricting when it was the reddest seat in the state. Coffman prevailed in the primary by a wide margin race over Wil Armstrong, the son of former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, and then-state Sen. Ted Harvey.
Coffman won three more terms after the 6th turned into what’s been described as the swingiest swing district in Colorado, surviving challenges from state lawmakers Joe Miklosi, Andrew Romanoff and Morgan Carroll.
But Coffman finally was felled in his 2018 bid for re-election by Crow, a first-time candidate who moved into the district from Denver, like Miklosi and Romanoff had.
After a squeaker 2-point win over Miklosi and trouncing Romanoff and Carroll by 9 points and 8 points, respectively, Coffman lost to Crow by 11 points, marking one of the bigger vote swings between elections in recent Colorado history.
Fast-forward a year, and Coffman is back in office, winning a race for Aurora mayor by a hair.
In the end, it turned out that political analysts might have had it pegged: the 6th CD was only a true swing seat anymore with Coffman in office, defending it as the incumbent.
The seat, which encases the eastern side of the metro area, covering Aurora and portions of Adams County to the north, and Arapahoe and Douglas counties to the south, had been trending more and more to the left as migration and demographic changes took hold since the beginning of the decade.
According to the most recent voter registration figures compiled by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, Democrats account for 31.2% of active voter and Republicans make up 27.5%, with unaffiliated voters leading the pack at a whopping 37.8%. That’s a ways from the more evenly divided but Republican-leaning makeup the district had when the lines were initially drawn ahead of the 2012 election.
Ahead of the 2020 election, the district isn’t even listed as a toss-up by political prognosticators. Politico and the Cook Political Report both call it a likely Democrat seat, and Roll Call rates it solidly Democratic, in large part because President Donald Trump lost in the district in 2016 by 9 points, nearly double his losing margin statewide that year.
But even in seats that might have lost some of their swing, lawmakers tend to be most vulnerable in their first run for re-election, so national Republicans say they’re targeting Crow, and the Colorado GOP has been keeping up a steady drumbeat of criticism.
At last count, two Republicans are running in a primary for the chance to run against Crow next year: motivational expert and Uber driver Casper Stockham, who ran unsuccessfully in 2016 and 2018 against U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, the dean of the Colorado delegation in the heavily Democratic congressional district next door; and former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014 and earlier this year served as the state GOP’s CEO under U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, who doubles as the party’s chairman.
No one’s expecting the kind of barn-burner the district saw in the last election, when Coffman, Crow and outside groups spent more than $25 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, ranking it among the most expensive congressional races in a record-setting midterm.
Still, Republicans keep hammering Crow, and his role helping galvanize Trump’s impeachment only means the GOP will hammer harder.
Nearly three months ago, Crow joined six other first-term Democrats with military and national security backgrounds to write a Washington Post op-ed calling on Congress to determine whether Trump had withheld military aid from Ukraine as part of a campaign to pressure the country into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's leading domestic political rivals. If he had, the lawmakers wrote, that would be an impeachable offense.
The next day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had been keeping impeachment-eager Democrats at bay since the party took over the House majority in January, opened an inquiry that led to this week's vote to impeach a president for only the third time in the nation's history.
As expected, Republicans have kept up the barrage aimed at Crow — with references to Pelosi thrown in at every opportunity — accusing the Democrat of diverting time and attention from Colorado's needs to pursue the "baseless impeachment witch hunt."
“Jason Crow and Nancy Pelosi have demonstrated their blatant disregard for the voters who elected them by continuing with this impeachment witch hunt that has been the Democrats’ goal since day one," said Kyle Kohli, the Colorado spokesman for the Republican National Committee, in a statement. "Coloradans are sick of this side show and want their representatives to get back to the issues that matter.”
In an interview, Crow rejected the attack.
"Regardless of what some people might say, facts still matter, and the facts are very clear here," he told Colorado Politics. "We have passed over 275 bipartisan bills since the beginning of the year — on health care, prescription drugs, immigration, gun violence, climate change and many other issues — and they sit on Mitch McConnell's desk. That is the fact."
Since the impeachment inquiry began at the end of September, he noted, the House has sent 115 bills to the Senate, where most of them languish.
As a member of the generally bipartisan House Small Business Committee, Crow said, it's hard to take the GOP's criticism seriously.
"We have passed over 30 bills unanimously this year, from both sides of the aisle on a variety of issues, from veterans in small business to increasing cyber protections for small business, including eight bills since the impeachment inquiry started," he said. "So the business of Congress goes on. The attack line by some folks that we cannot conduct our constitutional oversight role and legislate is just not true. It's never been true, and it's certainly not true now."
Crow said the political set has two options.
"We can spend most of our time attacking each other and banging each other up over the areas where we disagree, and certainly there are areas where we don't agree and we're not going to agree. Or we can spend the majority of our time trying to find areas where we have some common ground, where we can work together and get things done. It's in the latter category where I've chosen to spend most of my time."