BY PETER JONES
U.S Rep. Mike Coffman has often put distance between himself and President Trump—too much distance as far as Roger Edwards is concerned.
“I am not satisfied with the way Mike Coffman has represented the conservative population of the [6th Congressional District],” Edwards said. “He campaigned on repeal and replace, and when it finally came down to it, he voted no. People are tired of that. They want somebody who’s going to do what they say they’re going to do.”
Such is the crux of Edwards’s populist Republican-primary challenge to a five-term incumbent who once said he did not care for the president and in May voted against the Trump-backed House bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Coffman opposed the bill—which still passed the House, but effectively failed in the Senate—because he said it did not sufficiently limit what insurance companies could charge consumers with pre-existing conditions.
Edwards is not buying it.
“No matter what bill comes out of the House, the Senate’s going to put together a bill. Those go into reconciliation,” he said, arguing that the controversial stipulation Coffman objected to could have been changed at a later date.
Edwards, 67, a Highlands Ranch businessman, says the longtime 6th District incumbent has worn out his welcome among conservatives and would lose to the Democratic challenger if granted the party’s nomination for a sixth time.
“He’s lost already,” Edwards said. “He has lost the confidence of the Republican base.”
Tyler Sandburg, a Coffman campaign advisor, was uncharacteristically understated in his response to the Edwards candidacy.
“We welcome him to the race—everyone has the right to run. Mike is looking forward to the opportunity to work hard and earn each and every vote in a primary or the general election,” Sandburg said.
The politics of the reconfigured 6th District are anything but simple. Although once consistently represented by firebrand Tom Tancredo, the district has gone from Republican-safe to a purple melting pot where Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans and unaffiliated voters are the true wildcard, mostly as a result of redistricting.
Despite a theoretically level playing field, Coffman has managed to hold his own, surviving such recent high-profile Democratic challengers as former state Senate President Morgan Carroll and former state Speaker Andrew Romanoff, leaving some pundits to conclude that the district will not be truly competitive until the incumbent voluntarily steps down.
Edwards’s calculus for victory is unusual. He argues that although Coffman would lose to a Democrat in 2018 that somehow the same voters would prefer an unknown right-wing Trump populist over either, even as the president’s poll numbers remain historically low. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the tossup district last year.
The first-time congressional hopeful believes it has reached a point where 6th District Republicans would be inclined to sit out the election or vote for a third party rather than hold their nose and vote for Coffman.
“In order for him to win, he has to win all the Republicans and a sizable amount of the independents,” the challenger said. “Right now, a lot of Republicans will not vote for Mike Coffman because of the way he has flip-flopped.”
Even so, Edwards, who bristles at the term “far right,” preferring “principled common-sense conservative, is not convinced his own message will appeal to independents either.
“They may tell me to take a hike,” he said. “But I think if you get in front of people and talk to them about how America moves forward—maybe give up on your own personal interests to make a better future for everyone, I think you can convince a lot of people to do that.”
The candidate cites the Affordable Care Act as an example.
“If the people of the district say, ‘I want you to vote for this policy that is good for me,’ but it’s going to harm the country—sorry, I’d vote against my constituents. I absolutely would,” he said.
Edwards, who speaks in his native Missouri accent, compares what may be an unwieldy political challenge to his “two years, six months and three days” in Vietnam, where the Army sergeant served as a forward air observer on experimental aircraft.
“When I went to Vietnam, it wasn’t because I wanted to go. I did this because there was something greater than myself,” he said. “… We’d locate targets, and as an observer I would use the night-vision equipment and spot targets and call in artillery.”
The experience led the candidate to be very serious on issues of war, saying his “stomach turned” when troops were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“[Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon] knew they couldn’t win [in Vietnam],” he said. “Yet they sent 58,000 people to their death and millions of Vietnamese. What it tells me is the level of corruption that is able to exist in the government.”
After completing his own Army stint, Edwards went back to college, an opportunity he said he had previously wasted with failing grades before volunteering to join the Army.
“The military has a tendency to focus your priorities, so when I got out, I repeated all the Ds and Fs and I was on the dean’s honor roll. I graduated with a degree in accounting” he said.
Edwards took that into the business world, where he eventually specialized in transportation logistics. He currently owns a small trucking company.
The father of several sons moved with his wife from Missouri to Colorado in 2010 to be closer to his wife’s grandchildren.
Three candidates are running in the 6th District’s Democratic primary—attorney Jason Crow, onetime Obama administration official Levi Tillemann and attorney David Aarestad.
If elected to his first-ever public office, Edwards pledges to serve no more than two terms.
“Who could stand more than that?” he said. “Mike Coffman’s a career politician.”
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