Colorado 6: Littleton Lurches Left

How Jason Crow flipped a historically GOP district

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Encompassing Denver’s eastern, northern, and southern suburbs, Colorado’s 6th congressional district was once classic GOP turf. Since its creation after the 1980 Census, Rep. Jason Crow is the only Democrat to have ever represented this district. Home to most of Denver’s largest suburbs such as Aurora, Brighton, Centennial, and Littleton, this once arch-conservative district has stampeded leftward in the Trump era. Proto Tea Party Congressman Tom Tancredo started his political career here. An outspoken opponent of stricter gun laws and illegal immigration, Tancredo ranked among the most conservative House Republicans during his 10 years in office.

Succeeding Tancredo in the House was moderate Republican Mike Coffman. An Army and Marine veteran, longtime state legislator, former State Treasurer, and Colorado Secretary of State, Coffman had the ideal profile for this seat. A native of the populous Aurora, Coffman was a particularly strong incumbent. A regular target of Democrats, Coffman proved difficult to defeat until Democrats found a strong candidate in 2018. Army veteran and former prosecutor Jason Crow handily defeated Coffman by 9% that year. 

Powered by a growing Hispanic population and a shift among college-educated whites’ voting patterns, this district had started its transition towards Democrats by 2008. While this district would vote Democratic for President in 2008, 2012, and 2016, its transition to Democrats downballot took some time. Let’s take a look at this district’s evolution since 2016.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried this district by nine points while Senator Michael Bennet carried it by about eight. With the specter of a Clinton presidency on the horizon, voters probably split their tickets out of concern with the idea of total Democratic control of Washington. However, a Trump victory and total Republican control of the government ultimately proved to be too tricky a situation for Coffman. Colorado’s 6th District saw considerable spending from both parties in 2016 and 2018, but flash forward to 2020, the 6th district received scant attention.

In 2020, Democrats pushed further into traditional GOP turf in this district, with Biden taking the 6th district by a considerable 19 point margin. Rep. Jason Crow followed closely behind but John Hickenlooper ran behind both. Senator Gardner was able to maintain some degree of crossover appeal, but it was nowhere near enough for him to win reelection. Of particular note, both Biden and Crow were able to win the traditionally conservative Douglas County portion of the district, which Mitt Romney carried by about 20% in 2012. 

Another good way to look at how the 6th district has shifted is looking at the last three Senate races in the state. When Cory Gardner defeated Senator Mark Udall in 2014, he carried the 6th by about four points. For a Republican to win statewide in Colorado, carrying the 6th district or at least keeping it close is a must. Much of Gardner’s suburban support has diminished since 2014. The political landscape changed tremendously in those six years. After all, he was elected before Trump entered politics.

Colorado’s 6th District is now firmly in the Democratic column and its leftward lurch poses a significant problem for an increasingly irrelevant state Republican Party. These suburbs powered the party for decades but as the party is now largely relegated to the state’s rural areas, they are held hostage by an extreme base. Even with redistricting approaching, there’s little that looks good for Colorado Republicans in the Denver suburbs. Whichever way the lines get drawn, expect Jason Crow to be around for quite some time.

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