DENVER — Former Democratic statehouse Speaker Andrew Romanoff has filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to to officially challenge GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, next year.
Romanoff, who famously waited several months to announce a primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet that was ultimately unsuccessful, became the first official challenger to Coffman, who is ranked as one of the top 10 most vulnerable members of Congress.
“When you look at everything we need to do as a country over the next several years, it depends on having a Congress that can actually solve problems,” Romanoff told FOX31 Denver Saturday morning.
“Unfortunately, that’s not the Congress we’ve got. I watched the fiscal cliff debacle and it was infuriating, the incompetence of that crowd. I just thought we can do better than this.”
In his first interview since announcing his decision, Romanoff told FOX31 Denver that he will stick to his 2010 campaign pledge not to accept money from political action committees and special interest groups.
“We’re drawing the same line we drew last time,” Romanoff said. “The question is: can you raise enough money from individuals? And that’s up to individuals.”
Former state Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, is also considering a challenge to Coffman and Romanoff’s early announcement may lead her to make a decision about the race sooner than anticipated.
State Sen. Linda Newell also announced recently that she’s considering a run.
None of these eager Democrats were ready to run in 2012, after Coffman’s heretofore safe GOP seat was re-drawn into a left-leaning toss-up, leaving former state Rep. Joe Miklosi as the Democratic challenger.
Miklosi’s scant two-point loss was enough to make Romanoff and several other opportunistic Democrats seriously consider mounting a challenge to the former Army veteran and Colorado Secretary of State who is entering his third term in Congress.
“I feel a connection to this community,” Romanoff told FOX31 Denver Saturday morning. “I used to teach at Community College of Aurora, I represented part of it in the statehouse and the diversity of the district appeals to me.”
Romanoff, who famously sold his house in Denver’s Washington Park neighborhood to help finance his Senate campaign in 2010, has already moved to Aurora and plans to scale back his job at IDE, a Colorado-based non-profit that helps lift farmers out of poverty around the world.
He attended three events Saturday across the district in Adams County, Castle Rock and Aurora.
“It’s a big district, there’s a lot of people to meet,” Romanoff said when asked why he announced his campaign so early. “Part of the appeal to me is you can run a retail campaign and get out and meet the people you seek to represent. And that takes a lot of time.”
As for any effort to clear the field, Romanoff said only that he has not spoken with Middleton; but his early decision ensures that, even if Middleton or Newell enter the race, he won’t be the candidate who is viewed as the late-comer forcing another primary.
Romanoff may boast the highest name recognition in the Democratic field, and the party brass appears to have forgiven him for his ill-advised and divisive challenge to Bennet just two years ago.
But many Democratic operatives have expressed a desire to have a woman challenge Coffman; and Romanoff’s record could hurt him with the critical bloc of Latino voters.
In 2006 as Speaker, he oversaw a special legislative session in which immigration enforcement legislation was passed, including a bill prohibiting undocumented students from obtaining reduced tuition at state colleges and universities.
That same legislation is a slam dunk to finally become law this year, and with Congress set to tackle immigration reform, the issue certainly isn’t going anywhere.
Republicans wasted little time turning their guns on Romanoff.
“As the chief proponent of the largest tax hike in Colorado history, Andrew Romanoff is wildly out of touch with the needs of Colorado’s hardworking families,” said Tyler Q. Houlton, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“Romanoff’s long-standing ties to special interest groups make him unfit represent the middle class in Congress.”