Republicans are trying to recruit Rep. Mike Coffman to challenge Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado. If he stays put in the House, that gives the GOP a crop of candidates who could have a harder time in what will be one of Republicans’ few offensive opportunities in 2016.
Coffman will have breakfast Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will surely make the case to convince the four-term lawmaker to try and join him across the rotunda. Asked about recruitment efforts, Coffman quipped, "Pressure, pressure, pressure."
Coffman is taking his time. He told CQ Roll Call a decision would come “probably within the next month.”
“Still thinking. Never say never. But I haven’t ruled it out,” he said.
Coffman raised just $356,000 in the first quarter, a sum that does not scream future Senate candidate. And Colorado Republicans, who consider him their top choice, are unsure just how enthusiastic he is to leave his House seat.
“I think my Senate colleagues on the Republican side would very much like me to run,” Coffman said. The McConnell breakfast, he added will be "my second meeting with him."
Coffman's resounding victory last year in a swing district that was a top Democratic target elevated his standing with Colorado Republicans. As the former state treasurer, he has run successfully statewide before. His district includes must-win counties that swing statewide and presidential elections in Colorado, and as a sitting member of Congress, he would start with money in the bank.
"I think there’s a broad feeling that Mike is by far and a way the best positioned to compete and beat Sen. Bennet," Republican consultant Josh Penry told CQ Roll Call.
If he opts against a bid, there is a large field of Colorado Republicans who could step up. But they are waiting on Coffman's decision.
"I think everybody’s going to kind of be in a holding pattern until Mike decides what he may or may not do," said Republican consultant Michael Fortney.
And the other candidates would start at a lower tier.
Consider the congressional delegation first.
There is freshman Rep. Ken Buck, who lost to Bennet in 2010 in a banner year for Republicans. But in a little switcheroo last year, the GOP got Buck to run for Rep. Cory Gardner’s seat to avoid either a repeat or a primary. Gardner had a resounding victory, and Buck made it to Washington. It seems unlikely they would want Buck to try again for the Senate given his House seat is considered safe.
Rep. Scott Tipton "is very happy serving the constituents of the third and I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future," said Fortney, one of his consultants.
State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, the congressman's wife, did not rule out a bid of her own earlier this year. She was the second highest vote-getter in the state in 2014. But Republicans expressed concern that it's the first elected office she has ever held — and she has been in that position for less than six months.
Others in the mix include:
George Brauchler, the Arapahoe County district attorney, who is currently prosecuting the high-profile 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora. Timing is not on Brauchler's side. The trial is expected to run through the end of the year, and Brauchler would be unable to do any serious campaigning until after it ended.
State Sen. Ellen Roberts recently said she was considering a bid, now that the legislative session is over.
There's also State Sen. Owen Hill, who ran in 2014 but ultimately dropped out and deferred to Gardner, Steve Laffey, who lost to Buck in a primary last cycle, and businessman Robert Blaha.
No matter the GOP candidate, the race is likely to be heated and expensive. Bennet had $2.9 million in cash on hand at the close of the first quarter and is a considered a strong fundraiser. What's more, Bennet has proved a savvy campaigner, eking out a two percentage point victory over Buck in 2010, a terrible year for Democrats. He also will benefit from higher turnout in a presidential year. The seat is a must-win for Democrats who need to net five seats to secure a majority — meaning they cannot afford to lose any seats of their own.
The race is rated Leans Democratic by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.
Correction 5:32 p.m. A previous version of this article misstated state Sen. Ellen Roberts' last name.
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