Election 2018News

Tillemann says he’ll withdraw from primary if poll shows only Crow can beat Coffman

Author: Ernest Luning - May 12, 2018 - Updated: May 22, 2018

Tillemann-Crow.jpg
Democratic candidates in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District Levi Tillemann, left, and Jason Crow (Colorado Politics)

Democratic congressional candidate Levi Tilleman said Friday he’ll drop out of the 6th District primary if a poll he has commissioned shows that primary rival Jason Crow is the only Democrat who can unseat five-term Republican Mike Coffman in the suburban swing seat.

Tillemann told Colorado Politics he expects to have the results in hand Monday of a survey measuring the two Democrats’ relative strength against Coffman and will quit the race the next day “for the good of the nation and the party” if it looks like Crow’s position is “substantially” better.

But if it turns out national Democrats have been bluffing, Tillemann added, he plans to call on Crow to withdraw and for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to “stop meddling” in the party’s primaries.

Crow led Coffman by 5 points in the only public polling so far released in the race. The February survey, which didn’t pit Coffman against any other Democrats, was commissioned by End Citizens United, a liberal group that backs campaign finance reform and has endorsed Crow. It was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in North Carolina — the same company Tillemann hired this week to poll the race.

Tillemann’s pledge is the latest salvo in an escalating battle between the Democrats’ left wing and the party’s establishment — in this case, embodied by New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, the DCCC chair, who said earlier this week that polling demonstrates the more centrist Crow has a chance to beat Coffman, but Tillemann doesn’t.

Lujan made the remarks during a series of media appearances responding to a story first reported by Colorado Politics in January, that Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland had encouraged Tillemann to step aside in favor of Crow, the candidate party leaders had determined “very early on” was more electable.

The controversy boiled over late last month when The Intercept posted a recording of Hoyer’s conversation with Tillemann.

MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson asked Lujan in a May 4 interview whether the DCCC was putting its “thumb on the scale” against progressive Democrats in primaries. “Why does the (DCCC) know better than voters in a given district who to pick?” she asked.

Lujan responded, “Voters always know best, and ultimately this is up to voters across the country,” adding, “it’s important that we have candidates in these races that can win.” He went on defend the DCCC’s decision to attack a Democrat in a Texas congressional primary, a move that appeared to backfire when the group’s target enjoyed a surge in fundraising and won a spot in the May 22 runoff election.

In a May 6 interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, Lujan told host Michael Martin that “what’s often lost in a lot of these conversations is it’s ultimately the voters of those congressional districts that are going to determine who’s going to represent them.”

He went on to point out that Crow is a decorated veteran who has “done some incredible things back in the district.” Lujan added, “And we see him as a strong candidate to defeat Congressman Coffman. As a matter of fact, the polling shows very clearly that the only candidate in this race that has a chance to defeat Mr. Coffman is Jason Crow.”

Tillemann asked Lujan to release the polling in a series of daily tweets but told Colorado Politics he decided to commission his own poll after getting no response.

Tillemann told Colorado Politics he doesn’t believe the DCCC has the polling Lujan described.

“If this new poll shows (as Mr. Crow and his allies claim) that Levi is at a dramatic deficit relative to Mr. Crow in a head-to-head matchup against Mike Coffman, Levi will withdraw from the primary on Tuesday,” Tillemann said in an email to supporters Friday.

“If, on the other hand, this is another example of Mr. Crow and the DCCC lying to voters and inventing ‘alternative facts,’ then we say enough is enough. Jason Crow should withdraw from the race and the discredited DCCC should immediately suspend all efforts to interfere in Democratic primaries nationally.”

Tensions over the Democrats’ involvement in the primary — reminiscent of the 2016 struggle between the Bernie Sanders wing of the party and the forces behind Hillary Clinton — have been bubbling up since Crow got in the race a year ago after attending a DCCC “boot camp” for prospective candidates.

In November, state party chair Morgan Carroll, who lost a bid against Coffman two years ago, criticized the DCCC’s decision to name Crow to its Red to Blue program, which supports candidates who meet fundraising and organizational benchmarks. In a Facebook post, Carroll said the designation amounted to an endorsement and contradicted what DCCC officials had told her, as well as its neutrality policy.

Earlier this year, the camps clashed over whether a DCCC organizer who had been working in the district was paving the way for the Democratic nominee or helping Crow.

Meanwhile, gleeful Republicans have been egging on the opposition party’s rift.

“The DCCC’s comically ham-fisted attempts to control primaries like Colorado’s Sixth are tearing the Democratic Party in two,” wrote National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jack Pandol in an email earlier this week. “Colorado voters don’t want to be told who to vote for by the Washington establishment, fueling this battle royale of their own creation.”

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. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.