Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and challenger Andrew Romanoff, the former Democratic speaker of the state House, staked out clear positions on immigration in a 90-minute debate. It’s the hottest issue in the race.
The race for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District is one of the most competitive in the country, pitting the three-term congressman against a popular and articulate Democratic challenger. Thursday’s was the first of two back-to-back debates and it was dominated by immigration reform.
Latinos make up one-fifth of the votes voters in the 6th District and they may well determine who gets elected. While the candidates agreed that immigration reform is necessary, they differed on how it should be accomplished.
Coffman, who in previous races had held to rather standard Republican positions regarding immigration, said his views changed when the borders of the district were redrawn to include a much larger Latino population.
“What I’m trying to do is find solutions,” Coffman is quoted as saying on Colorado Public Radio. “Quite frankly I think there’s a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that are more interested in preserving an issue than getting something done.”
But he said he disagrees that there should be a “special path [toward citizenship] for adults who knowingly broke the law.” Instead, he advocates a step-by-step approach that should focus on three points: securing the border; benefiting the economy and not being a burden to taxpayers; and allowing families to stay together.
Young people born in the United States to illegal immigrants can “earn a path toward citizenship,” he said, by serving in the military.
Romanoff said Coffman’s step-by-step approach would be fine “if Congress were willing to take a single step.”
“It has been more than a year now since the Senate passed, with bipartisan support, comprehensive immigration reform,” he said, one of several remarks critical of Congress for its inaction on this and other issues.
Earlier in the week, Romanoff underscored his support of the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to certain undocumented minors, by leading a troupe of them to Coffman’s office in protest of his immigration views. The stunt backfired somewhat after the owner of the building where Coffman rents office space complained that the children had defaced the sidewalk with chalk messages and forced them to clean up.
On Thursday, the candidates also traded barbs over the federal budget, with Coffman earning what Denver’s Fox 31 called a raucous ovation when he said he would “repeal and replace Obamacare” as a cost-cutting measure.
Both agreed that U.S. foreign policy is weak, with Coffman saying it’s “too idealistic” and with Romanoff criticizing President Obama’s inaction in the Syria crisis.
Coffman — who served in both the U.S. Army and Marines — highlighted his efforts to reform the Veterans Administration. Romanoff touted his across-the-aisle efforts in the state legislature and argued that Congress needs new blood.
The 6th District is almost evenly split between Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters, leading Politico to call it “potentially the nation’s” toughest House race.
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