Embarrassment of Riches in Colorado?
With Colorado 7th district Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) all but certain to run for governor in 2006, the suburban Denver Congressional seat that he won in 2002 by just 121 votes is once again shaping up to be one of the toughest battlegrounds in the country.
But for a preview of the general election excitement that is sure to take place in the crucial Centennial State swing district, the 7th district’s Democratic primary might well be just as much of a nail biter. The question is, will a heated primary hurt the Democrats’ ability to capture the seat?
So far, two prominent former state legislators have tossed their hats in the ring.
Ex-state Sen. Ed Perlmutter, who served as Senate President Pro Tem from 2000 to 2002, announced his candidacy earlier this spring. Perlmutter had passed on the 7th district Congressional seat in each of the past two election cycles even though many thought that the state Legislature created the seat in 2002 with him in mind.
Perlmutter will face off against former state Rep. Peggy Lamm, the ex-sister-in-law of former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm (D), who moved to the district in early April and soon after announced her candidacy. She was in the public spotlight last year when she headed the commission that investigated allegations of misconduct against University of Colorado football players. Lamm currently serves as executive director of the Bighorn Center for Public Policy, a Denver-based think tank founded by Rutt Bridges, a businessman and philanthropist who is considered a likely Democratic candidate for governor.
“This is going to be one of the toughest Congressional seats” this cycle, said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based independent pollster, “I think in general it is assumed that the Democrats, if they can get through this [primary], they will have an advantage … but I assume they’re going to play it out and will that help a Republican? Probably.”
Ciruli said that if the primary turns into a hard-fought battle it will require the candidates to purchase airtime from expensive Denver media outlets, which could bleed campaign coffers before the general election battle even begins.
The winner will likely go on to face Colorado Commissioner of Higher Education Rick O’Donnell, the runner-up to Beauprez in the 2002 GOP primary who said he already has more than $100,000 in cash on hand.
“None of them I would look at and say at this moment have any great weakness,” Ciruli said, and none even has a hometown advantage. “No matter where you are in this seat you can’t represent the seat. Jefferson County would be the best base but there’s no key base.”
In an interview last week, O’Donnell predicted that the general election would be tight regardless of whether Perlmutter or Lamm got the Democratic nomination.
“Neither is an 800-pound gorilla but neither is a lightweight either,” O’Donnell said. “I think there’s going to be 1,000 votes [separating the Democratic and GOP nominees] on either side this time.”
That seems a given in a district that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won by 1 point over President Bush in the 2004 presidential race. Al Gore similarly won a 1-point victory there in 2000.
At the moment, it seems as if Perlmutter has a slight advantage in the Democratic race. Lamm has recently been on the defensive, after Colorado newspapers printed articles suggesting that she endorsed Republican Gov. Bill Owens for re-election in 2002.
Perlmutter, who said this week that he’s already raised “well over $100,000” for his campaign, hopes to avoid a costly primary race by proving himself to be an effective fundraiser and gathering big-name local Democrats such as former state Sen. Mike Feeley — the man who lost the tight 2002 race to Beauprez — to support him. Feeley has signed on to serve as a co-chairman of Perlmutter’s campaign steering committee.
“There’s a lot that can happen between now and a primary,” Perlmutter said. “Hopefully other Democrats will be discouraged from competing.”
He also thinks that Lamm’s recent move to the district will be a factor in the race.
“I’d say my main advantage is that I’ve lived in the district my whole life,” Perlmutter said. “I think all [my] roots and all of the community activities that I have been involved with will carry the day, and I think Peggy will have to respect that.”
But Lamm seems to be also attracting a fair share of support, including from EMILY’s List, the powerful Washington, D.C.-based organization that raises money for Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights. Although the group hasn’t formally endorsed Lamm, EMILY’s List Communications Manager Carrie Giddins said, “We are working very closely with Peggy Lamm on a daily basis and we are extremely enthusiastic about her campaign.”
Lamm said she’s willing to go the distance in a tough primary fight.
“I think we’ll spend whatever we need to spend in order to win the primary, and I have little doubt that whichever one of us wins the primary we will raise whatever needs to be raised in order to win in November,” she said.
But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials played down the likelihood that the 7th district primary will be a drag-out fight between Lamm and Perlmutter.
“This is not likely going to be a primary that is going to be bruising for the candidates,” DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said. “Everyone seems to realize that Ed and Peggy are great candidates but also good friends.”
Regardless, “I don’t think resources will be a problem in the general election,” Feinberg said. “They both are proven candidates, they have centrist records, they are going to be in great shape fundraising. No matter how it turns out we’re going to have a strong proven moderate Democrat facing a very right-wing Republican candidate.”