Colorado: The color purple


Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., participates in a news conference about the "Chinese question."


Shaun Tandon

DENVER, CO – “I think it’s going to be a real squeaker,” said Joan, a financial adviser who has done a lot of work for the Obama campaign. “We really don’t know what is going to happen at this point.”

We were sitting in a Starbucks in beautifully wooded section of east Denver. All around us, gardens were bursting with color, as well-heeled residents reaped the rewards of an unusually mild winter and a warm wet spring.

Despite the gorgeous environs, the mood was somber.

“Colorado is neither red nor blue, it’s one of the most purple states in the union,” continued Joan. “We have high education and low unemployment, but there are pockets of eccentric conservatives who just may decide this election.”

One of those eccentric pockets seems to be Elbert County, home to Representative Mike Coffman. Speaking at a fundraiser at the county fairgrounds on May 12, the congressman got a bit lost in rhetoric. Asked about the so-called “birther” controversy, Coffman paused for a moment, then delivered an ill-considered line that may haunt him a bit.

“I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.”

The audience broke into tentative applause.

Coffman apologized. Sort of, while telling a local news station that he “misspoke,” he reiterated his objections to the president.

“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.”

Well, that settles that.

The congressman is now walking back even that poor excuse for an apology, saying he may have made it “for political reasons.”

Coffman’s challenger for the House seat, State Representative Joe Miklosi, is trying to capitalize on Coffman’s “gaffe.”

“When I first saw it, I thought it was a Saturday Night Live skit,” Miklosi told a local television station.

But according to Denver political watchers, Coffman is pretty safe. Not even the national controversy that has resulted from his words will have a demonstrable effect on his chances for re-election, they say.

“Miklosi doesn’t have a prayer, unfortunately,” sighed a lawyer who has worked with Miklosi in the past. “He stands for everything that is good and right, and Coffman is horrible. But he will win.”

This election year, races for the House and Senate have taken on a special significance. Whoever wins the White House in November will have to deal with what has proven one of the most difficult congresses in history. So all eyes are on local battles in many venues.

But in the national contest, Colorado is going to be too close to call, according to both conservatives and liberals.

“Watch the stock market. If it drops 1,000 points, Obama loses,” said a prominent defense lawyer in town. He characterized himself as a “social liberal,” which he interprets in a particularly poignant way.

“I don’t care who or what you sleep with, just close the door,” he laughed. “But when it comes to money, well, Obama is a socialist.”

His definition of a socialist?

“Obama wants to take money from the people who work for it and give it to the a**holes who don’t,” he said. “A lot of folks don’t like that.”

A lot of folks in Denver, in fact, are saying “a pox on both your houses.”

“I don’t like either one of 'em,” said one man who has spent time as a development worker in Iraq, Palestine, and Southeast Asia, among other places. “We need a leader at this time in our country’s history, and neither of these men can lead anyone anywhere.”

His friend, a psychologist who specializes in trauma, agrees. She has not yet decided who will get her vote in November, but is giving it a lot of thought.

“Who knows? I might vote for Daffy Duck,” she laughed.