After Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman won the bruising, four-way Republican primary in the 6th Congressional District, many political pundits pegged him as the next congressman from the GOP stronghold.
But Arapahoe County Democrat Hank Eng hopes to prove the pundits wrong.
Eng, an engineer and pilot with experience in the Peace Corps and the U.S. Agency for International Development, is quick to remind anyone that the 6th Congressional District "is not a Republican entitlement."
"This year there have been so many more people wanting change," Eng said, explaining why he likes his chances in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.
Eng also cited the record turnout for Democrats at the February caucuses, and noted that independents are frustrated with the status quo.
"I have to believe the independents and unaffiliateds are wanting to be represented, are wanting change, but they had no party to come out to," Eng said.
That message of change has not yet translated into the fund-raising arena for Eng.
Coffman — who has also served as a state representative, state senator and state treasurer — had raised more than $968,000 through July 23, compared to $100,638 raised by Eng, according to federal election data.
But Eng said he can raise enough to compete with Coffman.
"We're getting past the national convention, and there will fund-raising opportunities there," Eng said. "We're fund-raising like crazy."
He said the key to his success will be leveraging enthusiasm among Democrats and dissatisfaction among moderates.
"Independents and unaffiliated voters are the ones I want to reach," Eng said. "And I will reach them."
Coffman could not be reached for this story. But Dustin Zvonek, Coffman's campaign manager, said Eng's inability to raise funds is a significant factor.
"He hasn't shown the ability to raise any money," Zvonek said. "But we're not going to take anything for granted. The reality is, for a Democrat (in this district) to be successful, they need a substantial amount of money."
When it comes to policy issues and differences, there are several. On immigration reform, the issue Tancredo made famous during his time in Congress, Eng is more moderate than Coffman.
"It's not a black-and-white issue as Tom (Tancredo) tried to portray," Eng said. He added that the nation needs to "normalize relations" with people who come here to work. Illegal immigrants need to be identified and pay a fine, and the guest worker program needs to be revamped, Eng said.
"The system is broken, and people are being thrown by the wayside," Eng said. "We need to somehow bring them in the open."
Zvonek said Coffman believes any immigration reform plan needs to start with securing the borders. And then the government should enforce existing laws that punish companies that hire illegal immigrants, he said.
"We need agricultural workers," Zvonek said. "There's no question about that."
He said that regulations on work visas should be revamped to include clearer language on when workers can come to the U.S. and to clearly prohibit workers from bringing extended family with them.
On energy, both candidates agree on the need to develop alternative energy sources but disagree on the country’s short-term reliance on oil.
"We need to invest in alternative energy sources," Eng said. "All of them." He supports a bill championed by Tancredo that would require every car sold in the U.S. to be flex-fuel capable, meaning it can run on gasoline and other fuels like ethanol.
"This is what's going to spur investments," Eng said. He added that Colorado could be the hub for alternative energies like solar and wind power. Oil will always have a place in the energy portfolio, Eng said, but many things don't require oil. He said increasing offshore drilling is not the answer.
Zonek provided the alternative view.
"We need to drill offshore and in ANWR," Zvonek said. Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies, and whether to increase the companies' access to oil fields off America's coasts. "To decrease costs, we need to increase supplies," Zvonek said.
But Zvonek added that Coffman doesn't think increased drilling is the only solution.
"We need to look at alternative fuels and all different options," he said.
When it comes to foreign policy, Coffman relies heavily on his time in the military and his service overseas. His most recent deployment found him in Iraq working to help the political process move forward. Zvonek said Coffman wants the U.S. to return to a "much more conservative foreign policy," which means less "nation building" and a strong military.
Eng said that he too believes in a strong military, but using it should be a last option.
"I believe the military is the last resort," Eng said. "It should always be an option, but it should always be the last to be used."
When asked his opinion on how the U.S. handled the recent Russian military activity in Georgia, Eng said it was a prime example of how the war in Iraq has limited U.S. options.
"Our military has been weakened by the misadventures that we've had," Eng said. "The only way we can project power is to have a strong military. Our inability to affect anything Russia has done speaks to how weak we are."
Zvonek said he didn't know Coffman's position on the Georgia situation.
Both candidates believe they could bring valuable experience to Congress when it comes to foreign policy. Zvonek said Coffman would be one of the only Republicans with actual experience on the ground in Iraq, which gives him a clearer view of what goals are realistic.
Eng said his experience on several continents with the Peace Corps makes him "able to question the veracity of policies more than anyone else."
Residence: Arapahoe County
Current job: Retired from GE Aircraft Engines
Previous political experience: Alderman in Appleton, Wis.; currently serves on the South Metro Fire District board.
Residence: Highlands Ranch
Current job: Secretary of state
Previous political experience: state representative, state senator, state treasurer.
Republicans have a big numbers advantage in the 6th Congressional District, which includes Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and part of Park counties. Voters here have elected incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo five times in a row, the last time by more than 50,000 votes.