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Meet the candidate campaigning for Congress via Uber

Uber and Lyft driver Casper Stockham slapped a campaign magnet on his car, and it started conversations. Multiple chats with voters later, he may never quit driving, even if he makes it to Washington.

If you ever request an Uber or Lyft in Denver and the app tells you Casper is on his way to pick you up in his Hyundai Sonata, know you're about to enter a safe space for talking politics.

In fact, driver Casper Stockham wants to hear what you think about the problems facing Colorado, and the rest of the United States, and he's especially keen to tell you how he plans to fix them.

Colorado Congressional candidate Casper Stockham and the Hyundai Sonata he drives for Uber and Lyft.

Casper Stockham

That's because Stockham is also running for Congress in Colorado's 1st congressional district, which includes Denver and a chunk of its southwest suburbs.

Driving for ride-share services isn't Stockham's full-time gig; he's an entrepreneur in his mid-50s who has worked in direct marketing and professional training for decades. He also wrote a book, "The Golden Business Solution," about his experiences as a Christian and a marketer.

He says he started driving for Uber and Lyft to make some extra money on the side.

When we met by chance last month on a flight to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, he told me he discovered by accident that driving could help his campaign. He put a campaign magnet on the side of his Hyundai and it became an instant conversation starter with passengers, essentially turning every fare into a whistle stop.

"For the most part we don't talk about (Republicans and Democrats)...we talk about homelessness, veterans. We talk about issues they are concerned with," Stockham said. "At the end of the ride I hand them my campaign literature, and even though they know I'm Republican, 90 percent of them still say that they'd vote for me. "

He goes out of his way to point out he's a Republican, presumably to eliminate any confusion. Denver and the district Stockham wants to represent have voted solidly Democratic for many years. His lone opponent, Democrat Diana DeGette, has held the seat since I was in high school in the Denver suburbs almost 20 years ago.

Stockham says he's talked to over 2,000 people he's given a ride to about his campaign, whether it's just politely offering them campaign brochures or talking about issues long after the ride is over. He shared one story in particular about a time he picked up a young Bernie Sanders supporter.

"His ride was over. I stopped and pulled over and shut the meter off. We talked for another 20 minutes. By the time I was done with him, he wanted to volunteer for me and he wanted to vote for me."

Much of Stockham's platform focuses on getting government out of the way, particularly in areas where he sees it as an obstruction to its own goals. He tells me a handful of stories about people he's met who are frustrated with government regulations and programs that he says actually stand in the way of helping the homeless, veterans and youth, among others. Some of these stories he shares with people he picks up as well.

The friendly, personable Stockham is a relative newbie to politics, which he freely admits, but he seems to be diving in head first. He announced his candidacy almost a year ago, in August of 2015, and shut down his marketing business in the process to focus on the campaign. He has continued to drive, though.

Shortly after our conversation in July, Stockham began recording and posting "backseat interviews" with prominent Colorado Republicans recorded from his car to his YouTube channel. He's spoken with the likes of former Nixon speech writer and Colorado Senate President John Andrews, who has also founded a pair of influential conservative think tanks in Colorado.

"Casper's innovative, entrepreneurial approach to politics really impresses me," Andrews told me via email. "He's a natural leader but also a likable ordinary guy."

The conversations Stockham has with Andrews and others don't actually take place while he's driving, but instead give a sense of what the talks he's had with other voters might be like. He's also thinking about collecting some of his experiences from driving into a book.

Stockham told me he doesn't ever force the conversation with passengers, but he finds that most are too curious about his campaign and can't resist bringing it up. He also claims that no more than 10 passengers have told him they will definitely not vote for him.

When I suggest passengers may fear offending the person responsible for getting them to their destination safely, Stockham concedes "that's a good point" with a chuckle.

Stockham's campaigning while on the Uber and Lyft clock no doubt marks a wholly different use of the ride-hailing platforms than their founders originally envisioned.

Stockham has supporters of all ages who want to see him in a debate with his opponent.

Casper Stockham

I checked with Uber to see how the company feels about Stockham campaigning while driving. Uber senior communications associate Michael Amodeo told me that because Stockham, like most Uber drivers, is an independent contractor using his own vehicle, he's free to put bumper stickers, campaign magnets or anything else on the car he drives.

Lyft did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Regardless, Stockham says driving for Uber and Lyft has been one of his most surprising and valuable campaigning tools. Getting his message out literally one passenger at a time might seem ridiculous, but the local and political press isn't giving Stockham much more attention, a complaint about "your colleagues" he reflexively brought up with me upon discovering I am a journalist.

And he's right; there's almost no coverage of his campaign or the race against DeGette in general, likely because it's considered such a safe Democratic district -- DeGette has won with more than 65 percent of the vote in her last three elections. Stockham and his supporters have taken to social media and Denver's streets to demand a debate with DeGette.

"I'm asking all of you to help me keep the pressure on Rep. DeGette to stop hiding and come out to debate me now," Stockham told supporters at a small rally in central Denver earlier in August. "After all, I'm just a simple Uber driver. What's she afraid of?"

I asked DeGette's campaign if she is afraid of debating Stockham.

"The campaigns have been in contact about a debate, and we are working to find a venue and time that works with the congressional schedule," DeGette campaign head Michael Whitehorn told me in an email. "Congresswoman DeGette takes every election seriously."

DeGette's camp declined to comment on Stockham's qualifications or campaign.

Still, Stockham says he's expecting to surprise DeGette and everyone else in November. Perhaps even more surprising, he told me he might continue to drive for Uber or Lyft if he makes it into office.

"It's just been a really great way to connect with the community. So much so that I believe I still want to drive -- not all the time, of course, but every once in a while -- even as a sitting congressman. I still want to get in my car and drive around at night to connect with the people in the district."