Colorado Democratic newcomer defeats 5-term GOP Rep. Coffman

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DENVER (AP) - Democratic first-time candidate Jason Crow has defeated five-term Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in a suburban Denver district, promising to find common ground in a divided political climate after helping weaken the GOP's grip on the U.S. House.

"Mike Coffman and his supporters are not our enemies," Crow said Tuesday in a victory speech that was more conciliatory than jubilant. "This is politics, not war, and I will never stop trying to find common ground wherever I can."

Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Iran and Afghanistan, was the national Democrats' choice to take on Coffman in a bid to pick up 23 seats to control the House.

Crow benefited from a wave of resentment against President Donald Trump in a district that has steadily shifted leftward during Coffman's decadelong tenure.

In his concession speech, Coffman said the anti-Trump mood sank his chances.

"In this congressional district, in this race, it was a referendum on the president. In the end, the waves were too big for this ship to stay afloat," he said.

Crow supporter Darnell Driskell said Trump was a big factor in his ballot decision.

"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."

Coffman, an Army and Marine veteran who served twice in Iraq, was Colorado's only incumbent U.S. representative to lose, tilting the state's House delegation to four Democrats and three Republicans.

In the campaign, 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.

Health care and gun control were Crow's key campaign talking points, but immigration also helped swing the race to the Democrats. The district encompassing Denver's eastern and southern suburbs has grown more diverse over the years, and a fifth of its population is now foreign-born.

Coffman has criticized Trump's immigration policies and began spending more time with immigrant communities. He said that made him a better congressman and a better person, but he could not overcome immigrants' mistrust of the GOP.

"They believe that Republicans aren't simply against illegal immigration but they are against immigrants," he said Tuesday.

Crow's calls for expanded background checks on gun purchases and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines resonated in a district where a gunman opened fire in a movie theater in 2012, killing 12 people. The district also abuts Columbine High School, where two students killed 13 people in 1999.

With the support of gun control groups, Crow raised more than $5 million, compared with Coffman's $3.4 million. Crow outspent the incumbent 3-to-1 on the airwaves.

Coffman opposed blanket gun restrictions but advocated for mental health and school safety measures.

On health care, 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.

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.

Still, Crow depicted Coffman as someone no longer able to act as a check on the party in power.

Crow defended Obama's health law as a first step toward his goal of universal health care. He called for a federal public insurance option to foster competition among insurers and lower rates.

Crow made scant mention of Trump on Tuesday 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 shouted to the crowd at his victory party.

In Colorado's other congressional races, Democrat Joe Neguse won the seat held by fellow Democrat Jared Polis, who was elected governor Tuesday.

Incumbents winning re-election were Democrats Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter and Republicans Scott Tipton, Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn.

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