Perlmutter camp unimpressed at news national Republicans targeting his seat

Author: Ernest Luning - February 9, 2017 - Updated: February 9, 2017

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and his wife, Nancy, listen as the Democratic congressman is introduced at the Arapahoe County Democratic Party's annual Patricia Schroeder dinner on Sept. 24, 2016, in Aurora. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and his wife, Nancy, listen as the Democratic congressman is introduced at the Arapahoe County Democratic Party’s annual Patricia Schroeder dinner on Sept. 24, 2016, in Aurora. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s campaign manager didn’t sound too concerned this week that his boss had landed on a national Republican group’s list of top Democratic targets in next year’s election.

Perlmutter aide Clinton Thomas shrugged at news the National Republican Congressional Committee — the campaign arm of congressional Republicans — was including the five-term congressman among 36 incumbents it hopes to unseat in the 2018 midterms.

“Ed’s track record of being accessible and active in the community speaks for itself, and he looks forward to continue fighting for hardworking Coloradans in the future,” Thomas told The Colorado Statesman.

Perlmutter fended off Republican challenger George Athanasopoulos by just over 15 points in the last election, although the NRCC’s western regional press secretary said the Democrat’s winning margin wasn’t the whole story.

“It’s clear Ed’s running scared after dropping $1.72 million on his 2016 race and outspending his opponent by $1.67 million,” Jack Pandol told The Statesman.

Athanasopoulos, a candidate for state Republican chairman in this spring’s party elections, argues that he was able to corral nearly 40 percent of the vote even while Perlmutter’s campaign spending dwarfed his own, suggesting that the district is up for grabs. (Libertarian nominee Martin Buchanan garnered about 5 percent of the vote.)

The 7th Congressional District — wrapping around the north and west sides of Denver, the suburban district includes western Adams County and most of the more heavily populated areas in Jefferson County — looked more like a swing seat when Perlmutter first won it in 2006 but has been turning more Democratic as the years go by. According to the most recent voter registration figures, 34.6 percent of active registered voters are Democrats, 26.5 percent are Republican and 36.9 percent are unaffiliated.

A national GOP strategist called the district competitive and said the right Republican candidate could win with sufficient support. Republicans, he added, are confident they can expand the playing field into districts previously thought to be out of reach.

Announcing that an incumbent is on the top-target list likely means the NRCC considers it a winnable race and could focus on candidate recruitment, help with fundraising and advertise early in the district.

Perlmutter was the only Colorado Democrat on the NRCC list, which includes roughly a dozen incumbents in districts won by Republican Donald Trump. (Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton carried Perlmutter’s district on her way to winning the state by almost 5 points.)

While Perlmutter’s seat looks on paper like it could be a battleground, the former state senator has won every election by double-digits, regardless of the candidates Republicans have nominated. He ran up his widest margin — 27 percent — in 2008, his first campaign for reelection, against political novice John Lerew, who didn’t raise much money but got some attention because he rode a Segway whenever possible. Perlmutter’s closest race was a 10-point win in 2014 against challenger Don Ytterberg, who chaired the Jefferson County GOP before and after his congressional run. His other Republican opponents — Rick O’Donnell, Ryan Frazier and Joe Coors, in order — lagged Perlmutter by around a dozen points.

A 2018 Republican candidate in the district has yet to emerge.

Democrats and Republicans alike have been awaiting Perlmutter’s decision whether he’ll seek a sixth term next year or potentially mount a run for governor — Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, will be term-limited — and strategists on both sides agree the congressional seat would immediately turn competitive without Perlmutter on the ballot.

National Democrats announced their list of top-targeted GOP congressional seats last week, and it included Perlmutter’s Republican colleague U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, who has likewise won reelection by comfortable margins in what should be a competitive seat. (Coffman’s 6th Congressional District is more evenly divided by partisan registration, and his wins have been somewhat narrower than Perlmutter’s.)

Democrats would need to net 24 seats to win back the majority in the House of Representatives.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.