Colorado Politics' Joey Bunch hit another home run with his excellent article about Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Bunch asks the question, “is the 6thstill in play?” Boy, I sure do hope not, for a couple of reasons. First, freshman U.S. Rep. Jason Crow is highly qualified and deeply intelligent, with a very strong background of military service. In addition, Jason is also an old friend, whom I first met during my own quixotic run for the U.S. House back in 2008.
But Bunch’s article goes beyond the particulars of the current congressman and asks a broader question about the “bluing” of the 6th in 2020. The defeat of then-incumbent Mike Coffman in 2018 by Crow signals far more than the voters preferring one candidate to the other. Rather, I see CD 6 as a laboratory, so to speak, for Colorado politics. Recall that Mike Coffman was also a smart, caring, and decent person, also with a strong military background, who had defeated strong Democratic challengers before. What made Crow different? I suspect, not too much. Rather, the times changed, and the albatross of Donald Trump firmly descended around the neck of Coffman, dooming his campaign in a district that was not “safe” for the GOP. Were I a Republican, I’d see the writing on the wall quite clearly — if you run in a district that is even marginally competitive, the bill is coming due for supporting Trump. The good news, for most Republican House members is that even a historically unpopular president may not be enough to swing the vote toward an opponent.
Is that because of the brilliance of the GOP candidates?
It is because of gerrymandering. Out of the 435 House seats, as few as 40 are even slightly competitive. More cynical analysis suggests that the number of truly competitive seats may well be in single digits. Unfortunately for Mike Coffman, CD 6 is one of those.
Mr. Trump has tried to create a Potemkin Village of Republican strength. Inheriting a healing economy, Mr. Trump and his GOP minions pushed through a tax cut primarily for the wealthy that punched a trillion-dollar hole in the budget. Senator McConnell and others are now trying to say that the increased budget deficit this year is not because the GOP cut taxes on the rich, but rather because far too much money is going to those lazy retired and/or poor people on Social Security and Medicare. But at the end of the day, the house of cards that Trump contends is a robust economic growth pattern is starting to show signs of coming down, and while the markets show that rich folks are still doing pretty well, there are more stress cracks being found in our economic situation.
Due to being, frankly, much better at the gerrymandering game than Democrats, the Republican party has been able eliminate many previously competitive House races by skillfully redrawing House district borders in such a way as to maintain what is really a false “majority” in many places, especially in Texas and a handful of other states. Unfortunately for the GOP, there are signs of steady weakening in the House that Trump built. For example, new job growth has been happening in the 140,000 jobs per month statistics, but those numbers have fallen well behind the growth numbers that Obama generated. Simply put, the Trump effect will start by hurting GOP members in the few truly competitive seats out there, and as the impact of his policies and personality grows, so too will the degree to which formerly “safe” red districts start to turn a bit purple.
Colorado remains the bellwether state for politics. We are gerrymandered, but due to court interventions, not to the radical extent you see in other states. As a result, in Colorado no Democrat is going to win CD 5 (Colorado Springs region), believe me, I tried. No Republican is going to win CD 2 (Boulder region). Smart people of differing points of view can argue about CD 7 (Arvada) and maybe CD 4 (eastern plains), but all agree that CD 6 was the true test, and in that test, Mike Coffman failed, or rather, Donald Trump dragged Coffman down.
While polls this far out are not known for their long-term acuity, the numbers do suggest that something significant is happening. While Mr. Trump, perhaps shrewdly or more likely accidentally, has cowed the media into accepting that regular lying is not newsworthy (cough … Alabama hurricane … cough), it is not clear that such smoke clouds will help him win a 2nd term. And since I’m really relying on the metaphors today, I’ll also say that Jason Crow is likely in the catbird seat in 2020. I suspect CD 6 has slipped from a “likely GOP” to a “likely Democratic” seat, with more bluing on the way.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.