MidtermsSundays 9p ET/6p PT
David Zalubowski/AP

Colorado congressional candidates woo Hispanic swing vote

Demographics have shifted in the increasingly liberal state, with Latino votes the latest battleground

“Congress is not doing anything to reform our immigration system,” congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff told a roomful of Hispanic constituents, who erupted into applause. His words were not exceptional, except that they were in Spanish. "It’s very important to lower the cost of college education and to fortify our economy."

Romanoff, Colorado’s former House speaker, is the Democratic contender in the state’s 6th Congressional District.

The battle for swing votes in that district has turned to the Hispanic community, which makes up 20 percent of the population there and 12 percent of eligible voters.

Many analysts are keeping a close eye on the outcome of the highly contested district for signs for the Hispanic vote in the 2016 presidential election.

The changing demographics in Colorado mean that Republican incumbent Mike Coffman is facing a very different constituency from when he was first voted into office in 2008.

Since 2010, the district's Hispanic population has doubled — primarily because of Democratic-friendly redistricting but also because of a significant influx of Hispanics into the area.

“It’s a district that’s changed on Mike over the last five years, and it’s certainly not what he signed up for originally,” said Aaron Cole, managing editor of The Aurora Sentinel.

“Colorado has gone from pretty solid red to purple now to blue. State Democrats have had a much easier time redrawing these districts to be more competitive and more Democratic-friendly.”

The midterms have seen at least three Spanish-language debates, plus the upcoming Romanoff-Coffman event.
Neda Djavaherian

After census figures were released in 2010, Republican and Democratic lawmakers vied to redraw congressional districts, ultimately requiring judicial arbitration. In a 2011 ruling, the Democrats’ redistricting map was selected as the one that “most accurately reflected and preserved current communities of interest,” despite some Hispanic organizations’ objecting to both plans.

The redistricting meant that Coffman edged out his Democratic opponent by just a few thousand votes in 2012, although he previously won by landslides. Some pundits are even predicting the Romanoff-Coffman race could be the most contested in the nation.

“Andrew Romanoff is being pegged as too liberal for that more moderate district, while Mike Coffman is being pegged as way too far-right and extreme,” said former Denver Post reporter Kurtis Lee.

With the 6th Congressional District now more evenly split than before the redistricting, along with a population that is one-fifth Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic, Coffman has had no choice but to shift his political positions more to the center.

“What you’ve seen is Mike Coffman moving to the center on a number of issues,” said Denver Post political reporter Lynn Bartels. “He’s doing all these things to save his political career.”

Coffman — who has also been studiously learning Spanish — will face off with Romanoff in Colorado’s first ever Spanish-language debate on Oct. 30.

The latest polls show no clear advantage for either political candidate, so how Coffman and Romanoff are perceived on issues important to Hispanics could be critical in attracting votes. However, that demographic consistently lags whites and blacks in voter participation.

According to Christine Alonzo, the executive director for the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization (CLLARO), the Hispanic vote could decide the race.

"This particular race is going to hinge on turnout," she said. "It's going to hinge on if the communities of color — primarily Latinos — come out and vote on the issues."

The Hispanic community will become increasingly vital for politicians who hope to get elected. "By 2040 in Colorado, Latinos will be 33 percent of the population," said Alonzo. "I think people need to be mindful about immigration and what the needs are of the Latino community, because ultimately it will be them who decide who will win in these elections."

Cole agrees, saying immigration could be the game changer. "Immigration is a big issue," he said. "Just how big remains to be seen."

Colorado 6th Congressional District Race
Mike Coffman (R)
  • Supports Citizens United
  • Opposes bill to create pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
  • Supports reducing deficit by cutting defense spending
  • Supports restricting abortion
Andrew Romanoff (D)
  • Opposes Citizens United
  • Supports bill to create pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
  • Supports reducing deficit by cutting defense spending
  • Opposes restricting abortion

A three-part documentary from director A.J. Schnack goes inside four key political races in three swing states. The next episode is Sunday, Oct. 26, at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

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