Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman draws primary challenge from ‘passionate patriot’ Roger Edwards

Author: Ernest Luning - November 7, 2017 - Updated: November 8, 2017

HIghlands Ranch Republican Roger Edwards, who is mounting a primary challenge to five-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, discusses his run in an interview at a restaurant in Douglas County on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)HIghlands Ranch Republican Roger Edwards, who is mounting a primary challenge to five-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, discusses his run in an interview at a restaurant in Douglas County on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Douglas County Republican Roger Edwards plans to announce Wednesday that he’s challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in next year’s GOP primary, charging the five-term incumbent with paying lip service to conservative priorities and using “identity politics” to divide residents of the battleground 6th Congressional District, he told Colorado Politics.

“It has become exceedingly more difficult to support Mike,” Edwards, 67, said in an interview, citing Coffman’s congressional voting record and his attempts to distance himself from presidential candidate Donald Trump during last year’s election.

Coffman, an Army and Marine Corps veteran, has won an unbroken string of elections since the late 1980s, serving in the Colorado House and Senate and as state treasurer and secretary of state before winning a seat in Congress in 2008. He hasn’t had to get past a primary since his initial run in the suburban district, which covers Aurora and portions of Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. It’s split nearly evenly between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

The 6th Congressional District is one of 23 House seats nationwide carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton but represented by Republicans, landing it on national Democrats’ target lists. Coffman, for his part, has beaten back challenges from high-profile Democrats in the past three elections even as the district has been ranked among the most competitive in the country.

Edwards said voters he’s talked with are increasingly dismayed at Republicans’ inability to follow through on campaign promises after winning control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

“Republicans out of Washington have created a giant stain on their brand,” Edwards said. “And Mike Coffman, with the way he flip-flops around — says one thing and does another — he’s created his own stain on his brand. It’ll be a miracle if a Democrat can’t beat him.”

Noting that unaffiliated voters will have the chance to participate in Colorado primaries for the first time next year, Edwards said he expects to win their support.

“They’re not really enamored with Republicans — and for some right reasons,” he said. “But if you speak to people in a way that makes sense to them, they’re either going to accept or reject you. That will be their choice.”

The last straw, Edwards said, was Coffman’s vote in May against a House bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, after years of campaigning on a promise to overturn the law.

Edwards also derided Coffman’s score from the conservative Heritage Action for America organization.

“He has 55 percent, according to the Heritage Action — that’s an ‘F.’ If you go to school, that’s an ‘F.’ Don’t the citizens of Colorado’s 6th District deserve better than an ‘F’ congressman? I think so,” Edwards said. He added that Coffman’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, status as a career politician and “close ties to establishment Republicans” are also reasons he decided to run.

Although he’s a longtime GOP activist and has held party office in the past, Edwards said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Coffman in last year’s election, instead pulling the lever for the Libertarian candidate.

“Mike Coffman’s a good man — he’s a Marine, and my sons are Marines,” Edwards said. “But he’s left where I’m at. It got to the point where it was a real frustration.”

A Coffman campaign spokesman brushed off the prospect of a primary challenge from Edwards.

“Mike has withstood literally tens of millions of dollars of lies put on TV by Nancy Pelosi and her political cronies in the last couple years,” campaign advisor Tyler Sandberg told Colorado Politics. “He’s a fiscal conservative with a track record of taking on big spenders in both parties, a strong reputation for being his own man, and is more than prepared to tackle the upcoming election, in all phases.”

While Coffman has a big head-start raising campaign funds — he reported more than $700,000 in the bank at the end of the last fundraising period — Edwards said he believes he won’t have to compete with Coffman on that front and will be able to raise what he needs.

“Money is not going to win this race. It’s your position and who you are and what you’ve done and how you’ve been true to what you said you’d do,” he said. “I don’t have any of that baggage. Mike is loaded down with it to the nth degree. He can bring a million dollars, he can bring $2 million — he won’t win.”

Edwards said he realizes his primary challenge is likely to provoke hostility from Republicans but maintained that doesn’t bother him because he doesn’t have a political career to safeguard.

“There’s nothing meaner than an establishment political person thinking that their incumbent shouldn’t be challenged. I expect to be attacked, but I don’t care — I don’t care anymore,” he said. “The place where we’re at in this nation now, too many people have cared about their feelings.

“I wish it was somebody else, but there’s not another Republican who’s going to step to the front, because they have too much to lose. I don’t have anything to lose.”

Three Democrats are running in a primary for the seat: attorney and decorated Army veteran Jason Crow, former Obama administration official and clean-energy expert Levi Tillemann and attorney and former school board candidate David Aarestad.

A Vietnam veteran and self-described “passionate patriot,” Edwards owns a small trucking company in Highlands Ranch, where he and his wife live. They moved to Colorado from Missouri seven years ago, he said, to be closer to their grown children and grandchildren.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.