DENVER — The suburban Denver district that Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman represented for five terms has turned more Democratic and more diverse over the years, but Coffman changed, too, holding off one challenger after another.
But resentment toward President Donald Trump and mistrust of the GOP’s immigration policies proved too much this election, Coffman said Tuesday after he lost to first-time Democratic candidate Jason Crow.
“In this congressional district, in this race, it was a referendum on the president,” Coffman said. “In the end, the waves were too big for this ship to stay afloat.”
Noting the shifting demographics of his district — where one in five residents was born outside the United States — Coffman said spending time with diverse communities made him a better congressman and a better person.
He softened his position on immigration but said he could not overcome immigrants’ mistrust of his party.
“They believe that Republicans aren’t simply against illegal immigration but they are against immigrants,” he said.
Three other incumbent Republican congressmen won re-election in Colorado, but the rest of the state trended blue.
Democrats held on to the governor’s mansion and defeated the incumbent Republican secretary of state. They were leading in the races for state treasurer and attorney general, offices now held by Republicans.
Democrats also were on track to take over the state Senate from the GOP and expand their majority in the state House. They held on to the congressional seat vacated by Jared Polis, who was elected governor.
Coffman’s seat was one of more than two dozen that Democrats took from Republicans on Tuesday as the GOP lost control of the U.S. House.
The telegenic Crow, an attorney, was the choice of national Democratic leaders to challenge the incumbent.
Both candidates are veterans: Crow is a former Army Ranger who served in Iran and Afghanistan, and Coffman is an Army and Marine veteran who served twice in Iraq.
But Crow campaigned on his differences with Coffman on gun control, health care and immigration.
Crow called for expanded background checks on gun purchases and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines, proposals that resonated in a district where a gunman opened fire in an Aurora movie theater in 2012, killing 12 people.
The district also abuts Columbine High School, where two students killed 13 people in 1999.
Coffman opposed blanket gun restrictions but advocated for mental health and school safety measures.
Crow assailed Coffman for voting for the GOP tax measure that revoked tax penalties for those who don’t buy health insurance.
It was a key provision of former President Barack Obama’s health care law, which Crow defended as a first step toward his goal of universal health care.
Coffman was booed at town halls last year for insisting that the health law be repealed, though he eventually voted against the GOP effort.
He insisted that any replacement legislation guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Coffman cited his longtime advocacy for veterans, his military service, his self-described moderate stance on immigration and his occasional bucking of the GOP to try to persuade voters to keep him.
Crow depicted him as someone no longer able to act as a check on Trump and the Republican Party.
Voter Darnell Driskell said Trump was a big factor in his decision to support Crow.
“I don’t like the hate, you know what I’m saying?” Driskell said as he waited to vote outside a library. “I don’t like the discomfort, I don’t like what he stands for and what he does, what he represents.”
Jeff Johnson, who voted for Coffman, said Trump didn’t figure into his choice. Johnson said he considers himself a conservative, not a Republican, and he votes for candidates who support his values.
About Trump, Johnson said, “He’s egotistical and he runs his mouth off, but look at the economy. The economy is a hell of a lot better than it was two years ago.”
Coffman also lost the crucial fundraising battle. With the support of gun control groups, Crow raised more than $5 million, while Coffman collected $3.4 million.
Big Republican donor groups pulled out of Coffman’s campaign to focus on races they saw as more winnable, and he was outspent 3-to-1 on the airwaves.
Crow made scant mention of Trump in his victory speech but noted “the dark and uncertain political moment we find ourselves in.”
“You sent a message that democracy is alive and well in America and that you will not be silenced,” he told supporters.
Crow was more conciliatory than jubilant in his victory speech, praising Coffman as a hard worker who served his country with honor.
“Mike Coffman and his supporters are not our enemies. This is politics, not war, and I will never stop trying to find common ground wherever I can,” he said.