An emotional Ed Perlmutter said Tuesday that he does not have “enough fire in the belly” to juggle both a gubernatorial campaign and to serve in Congress.
The high-profile Democrat bowed out of the governor’s race at a news conference in Golden that at times felt more like a funeral, as supporters hugged each other and cried while mourning the looming departure of their beloved leader.
First reported by Colorado Politics on Monday, Perlmutter will not run for re-election in 2018 in the 7th Congressional District, leaving open a spirited primary between three Democrats who are vying to replace the congressman in Jefferson and Adams counties.
“When you get elected, you have a contract with the folks you represent,” Perlmutter said of why he didn’t resign his congressional seat to run for governor. “I thought I could do it all. I’m telling you right now, in front of all of you, I can’t.”
Perlmutter acknowledged that the landscape changed in the crowded Democratic primary when U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder entered last month. Polis, a 42-year-old gay millionaire, has the ability to self-fund and raise money from a liberal base of the party.
But Perlmutter said fundraising was not the reason he exited the race. He said he will report about $350,000 from his first quarter since announcing a run three months ago, with 1,200 contributions, 700 of which were under $100, and at least 80 percent came from Colorado.
“Jared is a good friend of mine…” Perlmutter said. “When he got in, I had to take a good look deep down as to what it was going to take to win this race.”
Some Democrats fear that with Perlmutter out, Polis becomes the front-runner, which could make it difficult for Democrats to win the general election against a Republican.
Perlmutter said he is not sure whether Polis is too liberal to win a statewide general election in Colorado. But he added, “I don’t think anybody should hold it against him that he’s super smart and he made a lot of money.”
Following Perlmutter’s announcement, Polis said, “My friend Ed Perlmutter has always been a tireless champion for working families. I want to thank him for his amazing dedication to Colorado and his candidacy for governor. As a trusted and effective colleague, I look forward to continuing our work together for the remainder of this congressional session.”
Right-leaning Compass Colorado said Perlmutter’s exit means the Democratic party is shifting further to the left.
“It started with ‘Democratic socialist’ Bernie Sanders’ delegates sweeping the caucuses across the state last year, and now even a left-leaning center-left candidate can’t see a path to victory in this clown car primary,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado.
Political analyst Eric Sondermann said Perlmutter’s decision highlights the free-for-all nature of the primary, adding that it could open the door for another high-profile centrist candidate to enter, such as Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who has been weighing a run.
“A month ago, Perlmutter was the presumed front runner. Now he’s gone. A number of campaigns, and not just Polis’s, think they can be the beneficiary,” Sondermann said. “The real question is whether there is another shoe to drop – that being a higher heel of the lieutenant governor.”
The Democratic gubernatorial field remains crowded, despite Perlmutter’s departure. In addition to Polis, former state Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver, civics leader Noel Ginsburg, and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, are all competing to take over the governor’s office.
“Congressman Perlmutter has been fighting for Coloradans for decades. I hope we continue to see his leadership in Colorado on whatever path he chooses,” Kennedy said in a statement. “I wish him and his family the very best and will miss seeing him on the campaign trail.”
With Perlmutter not running for re-election in the 7th Congressional District, state Sens. Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, and Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, are free to continue to battle to take control of the seat.
“Ed Perlmutter has been an outstanding congressman and a tremendous leader for the people of Colorado,” Pettersen said. “I join many others in our community in thanking him for his public service.”