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Democrats Search for Candidate Who Can Beat Coffman

Coffman is a top target for Democrats in 2016. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After two consecutive cycles of trying and failing to oust Republican Rep. Mike Coffman from his Colorado swing district, Democrats are searching for the right candidate to take him out once and for all.  

Coffman has proved resilient over his four terms. He has been a top Democratic target since redistricting reshaped his solidly Republican district into a more competitive one. After a tight race in 2012, defeating his opponent by 2 points, he easily toppled former state Speaker Andrew Romanoff by 9 points last fall.  

Democrats believe that with the right candidate and the turnout advantages of a presidential year, Coffman can be beat in 2016. But there is some dispute among Democrats over just what would be the right profile for their ideal candidate.  

State Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, term-limited out of her seat, has emerged as the top choice over the past few weeks. She has met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and she attended the House Democratic Caucus meeting last week, shadowing Rep. Jared Polis during her time at the Capitol, according to a source with knowledge of her visit. Carroll has a reputation as a strong fundraiser, and represented the area as a member of the state House and while practicing law there.  

That profile alone makes her appealing to Colorado Democrats, who say one of the problems the past two cycles was running two white men who were viewed as carpetbaggers.  

"With Hillary [Rodham Clinton] at the top of the ticket, having a woman candidate only makes sense," said Colorado Democratic consultant Laura Chapin.  

Coffman told CQ Roll Call last week he thought Carroll would be a “credible” candidate and if she got in the race, it would be “competitive." Of course, he said he could defeat her.  

But some Democrats in Washington have questioned whether Carroll’s voting in the state legislature could be a liability. Over the past several years, she has been forced to take a number of votes similar to those taken by Coffman's past Democratic opponents, which provided fodder for attack ads. For instance, Carroll was the lone member of the state Senate to vote against a 2009 measure that would have toughened sentencing for child predators using the Internet . She also voted for several of the same tax increases for which Romanoff was targeted last year .  

These questions have prompted some Democrats behind the scenes to consider finding a candidate with a less traditionally political background.  

Everything would change if Coffman decides to run for Senate . The congressman is being aggressively courted to challenge Sen. Michael Bennet, and has said he is considering it. Republicans see him as the best-positioned candidate, but acknowledge if he takes the plunge, it would become more difficult to hold his House seat.  

An open seat could attract a wider field of Democrats, triggering a primary. In that case, Carroll would likely be one of the strongest candidates, with the resources and support to win a primary and compete well in the general election.  

Rebecca McClellan, a Centennial city councilwoman, had been exploring a bid, but has been silent in recent weeks. Colorado Democrats described her as a good option with deep ties to the district, and said they expected she would get in the race if Carroll ultimately passed.  

The race is rated Favored Republican by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.  

Correction 4:58 p.m. A previous version of this article misstated Coffman's margin of victory in his 2012 re-election bid.  

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