A bipartisan organization that encourages veterans to run for office demanded an apology Tuesday for comments made by a national Republican campaign group about combat veteran Jason Crow’s announcement that he’s challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, also a combat veteran, in next year’s election.
While no one apologized, the swiftly escalating war of words — centered around charges that Coffman’s allies had “demean[ed] the service of another veteran” — could offer a preview of the sparring ahead in the battleground 6th Congressional District, which Coffman, an Aurora Republican, has represented since 2009.
Crow, a Denver Democrat — he’s an attorney at Holland and Hart and a decorated Army Ranger veteran — will be the first challenger Coffman has faced who is a military veteran since redistricting turned the district into a swing seat, potentially blunting Coffman’s admitted advantage as an Army and Marine Corps combat veteran.
Coffman is the only veteran in Colorado’s delegation and the only member of Congress to have served in both Iraq wars. He sits on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and the Armed Services Committee, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. Crow served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan both with conventional and special operations units and earned a Bronze Star. After leaving the military, he was a member of the Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs and chaired the veterans’ committee that secured the VA hospital for Aurora, receiving the United Veterans Committee’s Outstanding Service Award for that work.
Declaring that “our political system is broken,” Crow said Tuesday morning that he was running to bring new blood to Congress. “I have always gone to where the fight is — and I believe that our most important fight is right here in the 6th District, especially when it comes to standing up to President Trump and fighting for Colorado values,” he said.
A campaign spokesman for Coffman, Tyler Sandberg, greeted the news by welcoming Crow to the race after getting in a dig at House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a favorite Coffman target. “The nation owes a debt of gratitude to those like Mike Coffman and Jason Crow who answer the call of duty,” Sandberg continued before leveling criticism at some high-profile policy positions Crow has taken in recent years.
Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, however, skipped right to the attack, dismissing Crow’s announcement as “hot air” and calling him “another talking head serving nothing but empty platitudes.” Pandol also extolled “veteran Mike Coffman” as “one of the hardest-working independent members of Congress,” without mentioning that his challenger was also a vet.
That was too much for the director of New Politics, a national organization that helps what it terms “service veterans” — in addition to military veterans, the four-year-old outfit also supports Peace Corps, Teach for America and AmeriCorps alumni — run for public office.
“Jason Crow has spent his whole life putting words into action — that’s what he did when he swore an oath to the constitution and put his life on the line to defend it as an Army infantry captain during three combat deployments,” New Politics senior director Doug Pardo, an Iraq and Afghanistan Army combat veteran, told The Colorado Statesman. “So it’s insulting that anyone associated with Mike Coffman would call Jason Crow ‘hot air.’ We should celebrate and honor our veterans, not drag them through the political mud.”
Pardo, who’s also a West Point graduate and flew Army Apache helicopters in combat, tore into Coffman and the NRCC.
“As a bipartisan organization, we’re proud to support Jason Crow because we know that in Congress, he’ll always put his country first — just like he did during three combat tours,” Pardo said. “Honestly, we expected that kind of independence from someone like Mike Coffman who said on the campaign trail he’d be a check on President Trump, but instead he’s voted with him 96 percent of the time. That’s not what public service should be about, and Coffman owes Coloradans an apology for letting his partisan operatives in Washington demean the service of another veteran.”
While Coffman’s spokesman declined to apologize, he distanced the congressman just a hair from the NRCC’s remarks before going on the offensive and suggesting Crow and his allies might not be able to stand the heat.
“Jason Crow served with honor and distinction, just as Mike Coffman did, and it would be wrong for anyone to ever suggest otherwise,” Sandberg told The Statesman. “But guess what — when you announce you’re running for Congress, you effectively refuse to take any policy positions, and say your whole campaign is a lame-ass regurgitated attempt to connect Coffman to Trump, you’re going to be criticized. Jason Crow is a big-shot 17th street lawyer who’s running in the most competitive seat in America. He’s going to face a cross-examination. If his campaign can’t handle that, maybe he should reconsider house hunting in Aurora.”
That last bit was a swipe at Crow’s current residence, which lies five blocks outside the 6th District in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood. Two of Coffman’s previous three challengers — former Denver lawmakers Joe Miklosi and Andrew Romanoff — moved into Aurora from Denver after launching their campaigns, a sequence of events Coffman rarely missed the opportunity to mention on the trail.
For his part, Pandol tipped his hat to Crow’s military service in response to the New Politics complaint but then doubled down on his earlier message, arguing that Coffman brings an independent voice to Congress while Crow won’t have much to say at all.
“Our country is a better place thanks to the service of all veterans, including Mike Coffman and Jason Crow,” Pandol told The Statesman. “But even the Denver Post said the following about Crow’s launch: ‘In his campaign kickoff, he offered few specific policy proposals but hinted at how he hopes to defeat the formidable Coffman — tying him to President Donald Trump.’ The truth is, Mike Coffman is an independent voice who has delivered for his district — for veterans, and for working families.”
Meanwhile, Kelly Maher, executive director of the conservative political group Compass Colorado, maintained in a release Tuesday afternoon that Crow was merely one of several cookie-cutter candidate national Democrats had recruited based on focus-group testing.
“As a combat veteran and Denver attorney, Crow fits the exact mold political insiders in the Democratic establishment have identified as their new ideal candidate,” Maher said, contending that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the NRCC’s counterpart across the aisle — had “scoured the country” looking for as many candidates who fit the profile as possible to challenge vulnerable Republicans.
“In fact, this trend is so prevalent, four veteran Democrats declared their candidacy against Republican incumbents just today after attending the DCCC’s ‘boot camp’ this weekend to prepare them for the rigors of a campaign,” Maher said, listing candidates in California, Pennsylvania and Virginia in addition to Crow. (A Crow spokeswoman acknowledged that Crow had attended the DCCC session, although she said it was Crow who reached out to the DCCC, not the other way around.)
“While we appreciate Mr. Crow’s service, it’s unfortunate for the Washington liberal elite that the ‘perfect candidates’ doesn’t just roll off a focus-grouped assembly line like little robots,” Maher said. “Colorado is a fiercely independent state, and the top-down, dictatorial, one-size-fits-all approach to candidate recruitment from controlling powerbrokers will backfire here. Coloradans are going to examine the policies advocated by a Nancy Pelosi pick in stark contrast to the independent values for which Mike Coffman consistently fights.”
A Crow campaign spokeswoman brushed off Maher’s attack as a sign of desperation at the prospect of an opponent unlike any Coffman has seen.
“They’re obviously panicked to be challenged by someone with such an incredible record of service for his country and on behalf of veterans in this community,” Alex Ball told The Statesman. “I think everyone can agree that this is a desperate line of attack — it’s not cookie-cutter to serve three tours of duty and earn a Bronze Star.”