Standing in a Greenwood Village brewery, his wife at his side, Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi announced he was running for Congress to restore job growth and the American dream.

"I've seen you raise your children; I've seen you work two jobs; I've seen you make sacrifices," Miklosi told about 50 supporters.

That was July 2011 - several months before he went from being a long-shot Democrat vying for a seat in what was a Republican stronghold to a formidable challenger in what's now one of the most competitive congressional contests in not only the state but also the nation.

Redistricting last year carved out large blocks of the GOP-friendly 6th Congressional District and replaced them with more Democratic  pockets. All of Aurora is now in this district.

After a candidate forum, Miklosi said that all along he has been up for the challenge and was never dismayed by the fates of past Democrats such as John Flerlage and Hank Eng - candidates trounced in elections by Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in the old district.

"I knew that the district was less competitive at the time," Miklosi said. "But when you make up your mind that you want to serve the people - and that goes for any job you do - you stick to it. I strongly believe that."

Miklosi remained steadfast in his candidacy even as members of his own party questioned whether he was viable enough to unseat the two-term incumbent.


Advertisement

Voters in the new district in 2010 supported Democrats Michael Bennet for the U.S. Senate and John Hickenlooper for governor, but both possess a higher name identification than Miklosi.

Three helpful factors

Political analyst Floyd Ciruli said three factors have helped Miklosi: the new district lines, monetary support from Democrats in Washington eager to win the U.S. House and being a down-ticket candidate to a president who has a strong grassroots operation.

State Rep. Joe Miklosi has worked at the nonprofit Project C.U.R.E. for five years.

"Include these factors, and you have a strong candidate," Ciruli said.

Rumors swirled last winter that Democrats in Washington were lobbying for candidates with stronger name identification to join the race. One of them was former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who toyed with the idea but, in the end, endorsed Miklosi.

"He's a very diligent, earnest and driven individual," said Romanoff, who worked with Miklosi when Miklosi served as executive director of a group working to elect Democrats to the state legislature.

Romanoff said Miklosi was a driving force in helping Democrats gain control of the state House in a stunning upset in 2004.

Four years later, Miklosi became a state representative whose district in southeast Denver borders Aurora.

The fact is used against Miklosi, as Coffman hammers him as a tax-raising Denver Democrat looking for political gain. Coffman's campaign notes Miklosi's support in 2010 for a package of bills to suspend or eliminate a series of tax exemptions, credits and incentives for a variety of industries. Republicans called the bills tax increases.

"He's passionate about his issues," said Rep. Larry Liston, a Colorado Springs Republican who chairs the House Economic and Business Development committee that includes Miklosi. "Which can certainly be very left of center."

In a 6th District divided almost evenly among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, Miklosi is quick to note the time he has spent in the district and not just Denver.

He has worked at the nonprofit Project C.U.R.E. in Centennial for five years, currently serving as a director of government relations. The organization provides medical supplies, equipment and services to countries worldwide. Earlier this year, he moved to south Aurora with his wife, Jennifer, and he has spent time as a member of the Highlands Ranch Rotary Club.

Additionally he received the endorsement of the Aurora Sentinel, the city's local newspaper.

Between shaking hands with voters at a Regional Transportation District light-rail stop in Aurora, Miklosi stumped for making the Anschutz Medical Campus the "Mayo Clinic of the West." "Let's create biotech companies to come out of Anschutz," Miklosi said. "We have to view that campus and others as job incubators."

Sharing his message Claire Cunningham, a colleague of Miklosi's at Project C.U.R.E., speaks fondly of how he helped secure a multimillion-dollar grant that allowed the company to deliver supplies to citizens in Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"When he got correspondence from a nurse in Guatemala saying they had received the funds, he was really moved," Cunningham said. "I just don't see Joe ever becoming immune to the daily struggles of people."

But such anecdotes have not come across in advertising, as Miklosi's TV commercials have assailed his opponent, rather than introduce himself to voters.

However, by getting into this race early, Miklosi says he has been out in the district for more than a year sharing his message with constituents.

"I'm getting my name out there," he said. "I have a strong campaign that's been working at this for months. ... We're excited."