DENVER --Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman is apologizing for comments he made at a fundraiser last weekend when he asserted that President Barack Obama is "just not an American."
But the damage has been done.
Coffman, thought to be a safe bet to hold onto his seat this November, has given his underdog opponent, state Rep. Joe Miklosi, an opening by questioning President Barack Obama's "American-ness" during a campaign speech last weekend.
"I don't know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don't know that," Coffman said at the event Saturday in Elbert County. "But I do know this, that in his heart, he's not an American. He's just not an American."
Miklosi, D-Denver, has been on the attack since the comments, posted on YouTube by a Coffman supporter, first surfaced Wednesday night; and he's spending much of Thursday making the rounds doing interviews and even scheduled to appear on national television Thursday night.
At the end of a speech about the downward trend in the economy, Coffman, who has declined all interview requests Thursday, raised the issue of Obama's citizenship.
"To me that's just really offensive on a lot of levels," Miklosi told FOX31 Denver Thursday. "He's not the judge about who is an American."
On Wednesday night, Coffman was apologizing -- and explaining his comments.
"I misspoke and I apologize," Coffman said in a statement. "I have confidence in President Obama's citizenship and legitimacy as President of the United States.
"However, I don't believe the President shares my belief in American Exceptionalism. His policies reflect a philosophy that America is but one nation among many equals. As a Marine, I believe America is unique and based on a core set of principles that make it superior to other nations."
But Miklosi isn't buying the apology.
"I was taught when you say you're sorry, you don't say any other words," Miklosi said. "And in his statement, he went on to backhand the office of the President yet again. That's not apologizing."
Coffman, seeking a third term representing Colorado's 6th Congressional District, is facing a tougher reelection fight than ever before, mostly because the newly redrawn district now includes Aurora and less of conservative Douglas County, making it more of a toss-up, not the safe GOP district it's been.
Political analyst Eric Sondermann told FOX31 Denver that Coffman's blunder is baffling.
"You just shake your head at a fairly mature, experienced politician, at least you would think, making this kind of rookie mistake," Sondermann said. "In tennis terms, this is an 'unforced error.' And it is a complete early Christmas gift from Mike Coffman to Joe Miklosi."
Miklosi, virtually unknown beyond his Denver district, is seeing a surge in support and donations Thursday as the Coffman story continues to make national headlines.
"The risk isn't that Mike Coffman has lost this race today by turning off swing voters," Sondermann said. "The risk is [he's] diminishing [his] inevitability and all of the sudden making it a competitive district, forcing Republicans to prioritize it and target it and spend money on it and inviting Democrats in to do the same."