Littwin: Here’s betting that Coffman has Georgia on his mind

Mike Littwin
Fair and Unbalanced

If you want some insight into what really happened in Georgia’s inconclusive CD-6 special election, just keep an eye on Mike Coffman, Colorado’s own CD-6 representative.

I guarantee Coffman understands it perfectly.

Coffman has proven that Democrats, even when running capable challengers, have been unable to unseat him in a bluish-purple district despite spending millions in the effort. But surviving Democrats is one thing. In 2018, Coffman has to survive Donald Trump, which could be another thing altogether.

In the most predictable result Tuesday night, Trump went on Twitter to declare victory (in what was a clear rebuke of Trump’s disastrous start to his presidency) and to give himself credit for the “big R win” (in what was, at the risk of repeating myself, a clear rebuke of Trump’s disastrous start to his presidency).

Of course, it wasn’t an R win at all. It was Republicans barely forcing a runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old political neophyte who won 48 percent of the vote in a heavily Republican suburban Atlanta district in an 18-person field.

“Glad to be of help!” Trump tweeted. His help was in tweeting nasty things about Ossoff. And let’s just say it didn’t help all that much. Or let’s put it this way: In the June 20 runoff, Republicans will be running former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, the distant runner-up who, not incidentally, never mentioned Trump in her not-quite-victory speech. The real surprise of the night was that Trump didn’t say the election was rigged.

This was a Trump-skeptical district that Trump won by little more than a point in November. It’s a district that Mitt Romney won by 23. It’s a district that Republicans do not lose. It’s a district of highly educated Republicans that Democrats suddenly thought they could win as outside money kept flooding in and Republicans couldn’t come up with a reason why anyone should vote for them except that they were Republicans. The leading Trump supporter drew 10 percent.

You can see the problem. The Democrats, completely powerless in Washington, have determined that their only chance to grab a piece of power is to flip the House, which they used to say was gerrymandered out of reach. They’re not saying that anymore. They came surprisingly close in a special election in Kansas. They’re now in a runoff in Georgia, in which the smart people say Handel is a slight favorite. Democrats have to flip 24 seats to win the House and coming close won’t get them there.

And so Coffman, for all his electoral success, remains a top 10 target in representing a district that Hillary Clinton won. If Democrats can’t win Coffman’s seat, they probably can’t win the House.

Coffman, if you’ll recall, took lessons in 2014 for a Spanish-language debate against Spanish-speaking Andrew Romanoff in the heavily Hispanic district. It was something of a gimmick, but it also showed something essential about Coffman and how he will do what it takes to win.

This time, Coffman has to learn how to speak yet another language — one that, to this point, no one has quite perfected. It’s the language of the semi-moderate conservative Republican in the Trump era.

There have been some stumbles early. During the presidential campaign, Coffman and Cory Gardner dumped Trump after the crotch-grabbing tape. Of course, each assumed, as all of us did, that Clinton would win in Colorado, which she did, and that she would win the presidency, which she, uh, didn’t.

So Coffman had to find a way to make it up to Trump while not alienating those who voted against him, which isn’t as easy as it might seem. And it’s how Coffman ended up being the only Colorado congressman to go on record in support of Trump’s fiasco of an Obamacare replacement plan, the one that never even came to a vote.

He also was the only congressman, as far as I know, who was videotaped sneaking out the back door during a meeting with constituents. And when he finally held a long-promised town hall, he found himself stumbling in trying to defend Trump’s tenure and eventually tried to change the topic by dumping on poor Sean Spicer, the most overmatched man in the White House, which is saying something.

What is Coffman to do? Unless he can get Melissa McCarthy to campaign for him, I don’t think hitting Spicey is a winning ploy. Coffman has promised to “stand up” to Trump. He needs to figure out how. I predicted the other day that he would soon demand that Trump release his tax returns. It’s a no-risk issue that certainly polls well and allows Coffman to sound tough on Russia.

Coffman has come out in support of Dreamers, co-sponsoring legislation that would continue to provide them with temporary protection from deportation as well as work authorization. But even that may not be enough, not when Trump is intent on splitting families by rounding up bad hombres who have been convicted of, say, driving without a license. Counterfeit library cards are probably next.

But it will be a tricky path for Coffman. The 2018 election will probably go as most off-year elections go — against the party in power. For Coffman, the question is how the waves go in a likely wave election.

And so it’s easy for someone like me to hit Trump for saber rattling — or whatever you rattle with an aircraft carrier — when saying that a carrier was headed through the waves toward North Korea when it was actually headed in the complete opposite direction. Trump (and Spicey) had either misled us or were misinformed by the briefers or had seen it on Fox & Friends.

What can someone like Coffman say? I don’t know. But in this case, it may not help to say it in Spanish.

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for