HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Ordinarily it’s the Republican candidate who gets hammered for being insufficiently supportive of illegal immigrants, but that’s not how the dynamic is playing out in a pivotal House race here.
Democrat Andrew Romanoff, who’s challenging Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, is taking flak for backing tough immigration legislation during the 2006 special session, when he was speaker of the Colorado House.
Fidel “Butch” Montoya, a Democrat and former Denver deputy mayor, took Mr. Romanoff to task in an op-ed in the Denver Post late last week, calling the legislation he supported a “patchwork of harsh, politically convenient immigration laws.”
The article came a week after the Coffman campaign began running ads citing a 2010 statement from Democratic state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri in which he said Mr. Romanoff “threw the Latino community under the bus.”
The fight could be particularly potent in Colorado, a state where President Obama and other Democratic candidates have done well largely on the strength of the state’s growing Hispanic vote.
Mr. Ulibarri has balked at the Coffman campaign’s use of the quote, which appeared in a Denver Post op-ed written with Mr. Montoya and Colorado Latino Fourm board member Julie Gonzales. In a June 6 commentary, Mr. Ulibarri said that the ad “manipulates a quote from me for political gain” and that he “strongly supports” the Democrat Romanoff.
But Mr. Montoya isn’t backing down. “Romanoff expects Latino voters to forget his unpardonable sin of leading the pack to criminalize undocumented immigrants for seeking such services as emergency care,” he said.
“Ulibarri claims he was misquoted in the commentary we wrote four years ago. Not true,” said Mr. Montoya in his article. “Andrew Romanoff threw the Latino community under the bus in the 2006 special session, and today he comes courting Latino voters again, hoping they have forgotten. Fool us once, but don’t count on fooling us again.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Coffman, a Marine reservist who served tours in both the first Gulf War and the Iraq War, has sponsored legislation that would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.
His campaign notes that Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, the Illinois Democrat who authored the DREAM Act — legislation meant to provide support to younger illegal immigrants — has called Mr. Coffman “a proven leader in Congress on the issue of immigration.” And at a recent dinner for Asian-Americans in the Denver area, he told attendees that “there was a perception about Republicans being anti-immigrant,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
“In my view, immigrant communities in America are a jump ball,” he said. “And Republicans have just not been in the game.”
Mr. Romanoff, who supports the DREAM Act, told KDVR-TV that he supported the 2006 immigration legislation as a result of the federal government’s failure to act.
The Romanoff campaign has countered with an ad quoting Mr. Coffman himself calling DREAM Act in 2010 “a nightmare for the American people.” That same year, the congressman is seen introducing former GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo, who previously held the seat and was a leading voice against immigration reform, as “my hero.”
“The next time Mike Coffman says he’s different, remember: The truth is, nothing’s changed,” says the Romanoff ad.
Coffman spokesman Tyler Sandberg called the Romanoff spot “another sleazy political stunt by Speaker Romanoff to distract from his own much-criticized record on immigration.”
Colorado’s 6th Congressional District race is routinely listed as one of the most competitive in the nation. Mr. Coffman has represented the district in the southeast Denver suburbs since he was first elected in 2008.
But the once-safe Republican seat was redrawn in 2012 to include the city of Aurora, which resulted in an increase in Democratic, military and Hispanic voters. The district is now about 10 percent Hispanic.