Casper Stockham CD1

Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics

Republican Casper Stockham said his campaign will be about education, economy, empowerment and empathy.

Republican Casper Stockham is facing the challenge of unseating 11-term Democratic incumbent Diana DeGette as Denver’s representative in Congress. And he knows what he’s getting into.

He wasn’t convinced of DeGette’s invincibility in the 1st Congressional District when she got nearly 68 percent against him in the general election two years ago, and nearly 71 percent in the June Democratic primary. Most candidates who lose decisively don’t come back for more.

But Stockham has never been like most candidates.

“I sleep really well at night. I don’t toss and turn,” he said of both winning and losing. “And if it happens, it happens.”

The Uber driver and motivational speaker has worked on messaging since 2016. His long-shot campaign in what’s considered a safe Democratic seat is governed by a 3-2-1 plan: He needs to raise $300,000 and reach 200,000 district voters with 100 volunteers.

“I’m not even close to hitting those numbers,” he said.

It would be a tall order for any Republican to win in the 1st, which has been in the hands of Democrats — Patricia Schroeder and now DeGette — for 45 years.

Two years ago, Stockham talked about homelessness, veterans and jobs, causes he still embraces, but this campaign will be about the four E’s, he told Colorado Politics: education (including school choice), the economy, empowerment and empathy. The last one has too often tripped up Republicans, he said.

The national Republican Party won’t help, “because they don’t believe the race can be won,” Stockham said over lunch at Welton Street Cafe in Denver’s Five Points.

He grew up in Stratford, Conn., before he joined the military, which eventually led him to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and then to Denver. His father had been a Democratic politico in Connecticut. “I remember doing the signs and the T-shirts and everything,” Stockham recalled. “And I hated it as a kid, hated it.”

In the Air Force, Stockham had his “walk-away moment” from the left.

He was in an officer training program that allowed in minorities who had lower grades than white candidates. When Stockham heard the Reagan administration was doing away with the curve for minorities, he felt personally attacked. He thought, “Those Republicans are always trying to take stuff away from us poor minority people.”

But then he realized he had better grades than most others in the program.

“I had to compete just like anybody else sitting next to me — white, black or whatever,” Stockham recalled. “We’re all in the same boat. I was getting good grades. That started light bulbs clicking in my head.”

He reconciled calling white competitors “mean” and “racist,” with, “No, I should have to compete just like anybody else. I wasn’t disadvantaged. I had the same advantage to do the work anybody else did. I just had to actually perform.

“That started my conservative movement.”

During the primaries, Stockham encouraged DeGette’s opponent, Saira Rao, who campaigned on racial equality. He said Rao’s message was drowned out by her personal anger.

Stockham, however, likened DeGette to a white supremacist in an interview with liberal journalist Jason Salzman in February.

“It’s my opinion, based upon how I see her operate,” he told Salzman. “It’s just like people calling Trump a racist. I haven’t seen any evidence of it. But that’s their opinion. And if it’s the majority of the people’s opinion, there is nothing I can do about it. But it is absolutely my opinion that she feels the white race is higher than the black race.”

Stockham said this time around he’s getting a warmer reception from the district’s voters of color who saw he didn’t go away after he lost in 2016; he’s remained active in the community and passionate about his issues.

“There are some people who will not change, no doubt, but there are more people who are favorable to my case,” he said.

He added later in the conversation: “Once they know my heart, then walls come down.”

Stockham wants to go to Washington, not run in a city or state race.

“I’m interested in making a difference now,” he said of the long odds. “If I can’t, that’s fine. If I lose, it’s not going to destroy me.”

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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