In trying to fill a seat that has only been occupied by two people since it was created 20 years ago, a soon-to-unfold list of candidates for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District will have to deftly negotiate 2022’s combustible political climate while figuring how to best take the place of departing Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter.
Politics watchers in the state think it could be anyone’s prize for the taking. Yes, redistricting still leaves the Jefferson County-anchored district with a distinct Democratic advantage — a nearly 7% bump, according to the state’s redistricting commission — but the midterms in November are expected to be brutal for Democrats.
“I think this becomes a very competitive seat,” said Eric Sondermann, an independent political analyst. “It wasn’t a competitive seat as long as Ed held it.”
Dick Wadhams, who once headed the Colorado Republican Party as its chair, said Perlmutter was a tough candidate to beat after having represented the district for more than a decade. The 68-year-old Colorado native announced Monday that he wouldn’t seek reelection in November.
The GOP hasn’t held the 7th Congressional District since Bob Beauprez did for two terms starting in 2003.
“It dramatically increases the potential of a Republican winning the 7th in 2022,” Wadhams said.
But Wadhams said that will all come down to who Republicans put forward as a candidate — and that means moderation over hard-line posturing.
“It cannot be won by a Republican who wants to support Trump and wants to talk about stolen elections,” he said. “That’s a sure loser.”
Wadhams points out that the bulk of the population of the newly drawn 7th Congressional District remains squarely in Jefferson County, home to Denver’s western suburbs, which have trended increasingly blue over recent years. It’s a county that turned out in favor of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential contest, Jared Polis in the 2018 governor’s election and Joe Biden in the 2020 election, he said.
“It all comes back to Jefferson County,” he said.
Sondermann said a candidate who sounds strident and takes hard-right positions on issues — like Rep. Lauren Boebert in the 3rd Congressional District — will have no chance in the 7th.
“This is going to be a district controlled by soccer moms and soccer dads in Jeffco,” he said.
Several names are emerging on both sides of the aisle as candidates to replace Perlmutter. State Sen. Brittany Pettersen, who had designs on Perlmutter’s seat in 2017 when the congressman considered a run for Colorado governor, could be a potential frontrunner for the Democrats (Pettersen’s husband, Ian Silverii, is an opinion columnist for The Denver Post).
“I think Pettersen would be a very formidable and attractive candidate,” Sondermann said. “I think Brittany has been waiting for this opportunity and I would be surprised if she didn’t take this opportunity.”
On the Republican side, State Rep. Colin Larson is a name that is rising fast in Jefferson County.
“Colin Larson would be the ideal Republican candidate,” Sondermann said. “No one doubts his Republican credentials but no one thinks he has drifted off the deep end either.”
Pettersen could not be immediately reached for comment Monday. Larson said he has been “seriously looking” at a run and expects to make an announcement one way or the other in a week or so.
“I’m the only Republican in Jeffco who could win this thing,” he said.
Other Democratic contenders could include former State Sen. Andy Kerr, who also announced a short-lived run for the 7th Congressional District in 2017, and State Rep. Chris Kennedy.
Two Republicans have already announced their candidacies for the district: Erik Aadland and Laurel Imer.