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Democrats take issue with Mike Coffman’s move to the middle

Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, in his new district office in February.

Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, in his new district office in February.

DENVER — Republican Congressman Mike Coffman, suddenly one of the most vulnerable incumbents in Washington, is getting a lot of attention for his recent moves toward the political center.

Coffman, elected in 2008 to represent Colorado’s ultra-conservative 6th Congressional District, barely won reelection in 2010 after his district was re-drawn to include Aurora, which made his seat a virtual toss-up.

Now, with former Democratic statehouse Speaker Andrew Romanoff already launching a campaign to challenge Coffman in 2014, Coffman is acting with new urgency, taking action on the major issues of the day — and positions that are notably less conservative than he’s ever taken before.

“I’ve got one year to make it count,” Coffman told FOX31 last week in an interview at his new district office in Aurora.

Coffman, an Iraq war veteran who’s always advocated cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, introduced his own alternative to the looming sequester on Monday, an outline of more strategic cuts to defense budget.

But his recent support for immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented people marks a major shift, one characterized by a Politico article Tuesday as “a 180″ from the congressman who, Politico writes, “made opposition to immigration reform a central plank of his first campaign for Congress.”

Coffman is also co-sponsoring a bill with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, the sponsor of the DREAM Act, that would enable non-citizens to serve in the military.

“In the district I had until last month, there wasn’t a significant Hispanic population, and with the population I had, immigration wasn’t a significant issue,” Coffman told Politico. “In the district I have now, there is a significant Hispanic population. And meeting with those people really put a face on it.”

Democrats, who have to win Coffman’s seat if they’re going to have any shot of taking back a majority in the House in 2014, aren’t letting anyone forget about his prior positions.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fired off a press release Wednesday with a link to the Politico article and called Coffman’s shift on immigration “craven.”

Coffman’s call Wednesday for the House to vote on the Violence Against Women Act also drew a quick response from the Colorado Democratic Party, a press release trying to link Coffman to former Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin whose comments last year about “forcible rape” cost him a shot at Sen. Claire McCaskill’s seat.

“Colorado won’t forget that Congressman Mike Coffman joined with Todd Akin and cosponsored a bill to redefine and narrow the definition of rape, and twice last year voted against the Senate Violence Against Women Act,” said Beverly Benvidez Ryken, the Colorado Democratic Party’s 1st Vice Chair.

“Congressman Coffman’s attempted makeover just can’t hide his years of voting with the Tea Party fringe and against Colorado women.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee fired back.

“Washington special interests are scared their handpicked candidate Andrew Romanoff will lose another election – just like he did in 2010,” said NRCC spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton.

“Romanoff is just another professional politician looking for a job while Congressman Coffman is standing up for his constituents and fighting Washington’s spending culture.”

Political analyst Eric Sondermann told FOX31 that Coffman is wise to preemptively address policy areas that have hurt Republicans nationally and could hurt him in his new district.

“This is part of the wisdom of swing district — it draws legislators away from extreme positions and to more moderate positions,” said Eric Sondermann.

“Very clearly, he’s on a campaign of inoculation, trying to do preemptive damage control against some of his biggest vulnerabilities.”