Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s retirement announcement sent political shockwaves across Colorado and Washington D.C. Of the 37 members of Congress leaving this year, Perlmutter became the 26th House Democrat to announce he would not seek re-election, further jeopardizing Democrats’ razor-thin House majority.
I have known Perlmutter long before we served together in the Colorado legislature and I have watched his career closely. I understand what it means to campaign and serve, and Perlmutter has always been one of the very best.
Colorado owes him a debt of gratitude.
Perlmutter’s legacy is one of completing the VA Medical Center, pushing to expand renewable energy research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and helping grow our aerospace economy.
But Perlmutter will focus on the moving stories where he made a difference in people’s lives. While it never made headlines, Perlmutter was always accessible and fought hard for everyday Coloradans.
He was also like a great coach who deepened Colorado’s Democratic bench. Among others, Speaker Alec Garnett, Rep. Dylan Roberts, Rep. Chris Kennedy and former Sen. Cheri Jahn, each started their political careers working for Perlmutter.
And, contrary to Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown’s statements, Perlmutter didn’t retire because he was going to lose his next election.
Neither Republican candidate Erik Aadland nor Laurel Imer could have unseated Perlmutter.
In 2020, Perlmutter won by nearly 22 percentage points. Perlmutter won every re-election bid by double digits. In the last campaign report he filed, Perlmutter had $993,416 on hand, a sizeable war chest by any measure. The Cook Political Report viewed his as a solid seat for Democrats.
However, with Perlmutter retiring, the 7th Congressional District joins Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District as a highly competitive race that the nation will be closely watching.
The district — recently redrawn — is anchored in Jefferson County. More than 72% of the district’s population lives in Jeffco and another 10% of the district’s population resides in Broomfield.
Because of the integration of several more rural and mountain jurisdictions — including Lake, Park, Teller, Chaffee, Fremont, and Custer counties — Democrats have a mere 2.4 percentage point advantage (28.2% Democrat v. 25.8% Republican) among active registered voters in the district. Based upon their analysis, FiveThirtyEight dropped the district’s Democrat lean by nine points — from 15 to just 6 — based on the new map.
Perlmutter said it’s time to “pass the torch to the next generation of leaders” and within 24 hours of the announcement, Democrat state Sen. Brittany Pettersen became the first prominent Democrat to announce her candidacy. Pettersen has focused on behavioral health and education issues during her impressive 10-year legislative tenure. She also has a head start with roughly $45,000 leftover from her three-month congressional run in 2018.
Pettersen, who is the wife of Denver Post columnist and liberal campaign strategist Ian Silverii, likely won’t be the last Democrat to run.
Jefferson County Commissioner Leslie Dahlkemper would be a strong challenger if she decides to run. Dahlkemper has been elected county-wide in Jefferson County twice. First, in 2011 to the Jefferson County school board, and then as a Jefferson County Commissioner in 2018. Dahlkemper, who serves on the Colorado Fire Commission, has focused her efforts on reducing wildfire risk, bringing her in close contact with some of the mountain towns that have been added to this district.
Other prominent and formidable names rumored to be interested in a potential run include State Reps. Brianna Titone and Monica Duran. Titone, a two-term state representative from Arvada flipped a red district that no one expected her to win. Duran — the House Majority Co-Whip — hails from a district located entirely within Jefferson County.
The big question is whether Perlmutter will try to put his finger on the scale during the Democratic primary. In addition to his endorsement, Perlmutter could transfer some or all of his sizable campaign funds to other candidates.
Because this seat has now moved from a safe seat to a lean Democrat seat coupled with the midterm political landscape which inures to the benefit of Republicans, the National Republican Congressional Committee will certainly make this a high priority and battleground seat.
To win, the Republican candidate can’t win the battle for the Republican nomination and lose the general election war by adopting either the Big Lie or pushing the Trump narrative. The district’s unaffiliated voters, which make up 44% of active registered voters, want credible candidates who are focused on economic and education-related issues.
State Rep. Colin Larson, R-Ken Caryl, fits the bill and is expected to announce his candidacy. Larson, a small business owner, was elected to House District 22 in 2018. Larson is a conservative who has also supported bipartisan legislation such as funding full-day kindergarten and increasing mental health resources. He is well-liked and respected, and would likely be the Republican front-runner.
Another formidable candidate for the Republican nomination would be former state Rep. Lang Sias. Sias, who was on Walker Stapleton’s ticket for governor in 2018, has already declared his candidacy for state treasurer but is said to be contemplating a run for this open seat.
There are certainly others taking a gander.
One thing is for sure, whoever wins has big shoes to fill.
Doug Friednash is a Denver native, a partner with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, and the former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.