- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The four Republican candidates for Colorados 6th Congressional District have one thing in common: Theyre strongly opposed to illegal immigration.

They had better be. They´re running to succeed Rep. Tom Tancredo, tireless champion of tighter border security, congressional rabble-rouser extraordinaire and bete noire of the open-borders lobby.

After 10 years in Congress, Mr. Tancredo, 63, announced earlier this year that he would retire after his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination, even though the popular congressman likely could have held the seat for life.

His departure unleashed a horse race among Republicans eager to represent Denver´s prosperous southern suburbs. The Democrats also are fielding a candidate, aerospace engineer Henry Eng, but the Aug. 12 Republican primary will almost certainly decide the outcome in the staunchly Republican district.

All four Republicans can be described as conservative, and they hold similar stands on most issues, leading analysts to predict that the race will come down to experience and reputation. The best-known candidate is Mike Coffman, a former state legislator who has been elected to statewide office three times.

Mr. Coffman, 53, has a compelling military record as well. In 2005, he resigned after seven years as state treasurer to return to active duty as a Marine in Iraq, where he helped run two elections and establish local governments.

“There is not a single Republican in Congress who´s served in Iraq. I want to change that,” Mr. Coffman says in one of his television ads.

Mr. Coffman might be the consensus pick of Republicans except for one problem: If he’s elected, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter would appoint his successor as secretary of state. That would give Democrats control of the governor´s office, both legislative houses and every state elective office except attorney general.

Republican leaders begged Mr. Coffman to stay out of the congressional race; when he refused, they threw their support behind newcomer Wil Armstrong. A businessman, Mr. Armstrong, 41, is running as a fresh face eager to shake up politics-as-usual in Washington.

This is Mr. Armstrong´s first run for political office, but he´s hardly unknown: His father is former Sen. Bill Armstrong, a revered and influential figure in Republican politics.

“Frankly, we need more people like my dad,” Mr. Armstrong said. “He served two terms and came home at age 53. He was a classic citizen legislator.”

His list of supporters reads like a who´s who of state Republican bigwigs, including Sen. Wayne Allard, former Gov. Bill Owens and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. On the national scene, Mr. Armstrong has Mitt Romney in his corner, and Jack Kemp was in town last week for a fundraiser.

The other two candidates are state Sen. Ted Harvey, 43, a mortgage banker and favorite of conservatives, and state Sen. Steve Ward, 48, a lawyer and Marine colonel who also served in Iraq.

Both are well-respected in Republican circles, but with the primary a week away, they´ve been reduced to the role of spoiler. Mr. Harvey is seen as drawing votes from Mr. Armstrong, while Mr. Ward could sap strength from Mr. Coffman.

To his critics, Mr. Coffman has argued that the secretary of state´s office is primarily administrative and that whether a Democrat or Republican holds it makes little difference.

“A lot of the Republican establishment is not with me, but it´s not because of the secretary of state [issue]. It has everything to do with the fact that the son of a U.S. senator is running,” Mr. Coffman said. Mr. Armstrong “is more powerful today than he was as a U.S. senator.”

However, Brad Jones, who runs the conservative Face the State blog, blasted Mr. Coffman for failing to acknowledge the importance of the office, especially given Colorado´s status as a swing state in the 2008 presidential race.

“If we have an election boondoggle in Colorado that in any way resembles Florida in 2000, it will matter a great deal whether there´s a Republican or Democrat in the secretary of state´s office,” said Mr. Jones, whose blog has mounted an “Anybody but Coffman” campaign.

He noted that state Democrats have pushed for anti-Republican reforms including same-day voter registration and relaxed photo-identification requirements, changes Mr. Coffman would be positioned to help thwart in his role as secretary of state.

The Denver Post batted down such concerns in its recent endorsement of Mr. Coffman while declaring that his “political and policy experience makes him the best choice.”

“A few of his fellow Republicans don´t want Coffman to win because they don´t want the party to lose the Secretary of State´s office,” said the July 25 editorial. “But we´re confident that if he´s elected, whatever the party thinks it may be losing, constituents in the 6th would gain a tireless fighter.”

There has been no endorsement from the Republican with the most clout in the district, Mr. Tancredo, although he has made it clear that he won´t stand for any backsliding on his pet issue.

“While he isn´t endorsing anyone, he has made it clear that he would campaign against anyone who didn´t take a strong stand against illegal immigration,” said Tancredo spokesman T.Q. Houlton.

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