Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter announced on Sunday he’s running for governor in 2018.
“We’ve begun to see part of Colorado’s way of life and economy threatened by the Trump administration when it comes to the environment, public lands, immigration, health care and our national labs,” Perlmutter told a crowd at Natural Grocers in Golden.
“Some of the most important issues of our time are deadlocked in DC right now. That’s why continuing strong leadership at the state level is more important than ever,” he continued.
Perlmutter’s decision not to seek a sixth term in the House will leave open a solid Democratic seat, but one that Republicans are more optimistic about winning without the incumbent running — if they can field a competitive candidate.
The National Republican Congressional Committee included the 7th District on its list of 36 initial targets for 2018, but with Perlmutter in the seat, winning there long seemed unlikely.
Perlmutter won re-election by 15 points last fall, while Hillary Clinton carried the district by 12 points, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. First elected in 2006, Perlmutter has always won re-election by double digits.
Democratic state Sen. Andy Kerr, a middle school teacher from Lakewood, is likely to jump into the race once Perlmutter announces. State Rep. Brittany Pettersen, who also represents Lakewood, threw her hat in the ring Sunday. Both are well-respected state legislators, and Pettersen would be an attractive EMILY’s List candidate. State Sen. Dominick Moreno and former state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri may also be interested.
But Centennial State Democrats admit that an open seat could make for a more competitive general election.
“It’s a suburban district in an off-year that includes some minorities that may not turn out to vote. It’s not by any means a secure district for Democrats,” said Rick Ridder, a Democratic strategist.
Republicans’ chances, though, will largely depend on whom they get to run. In recent contests in the state, viable challengers have struggled to advance out of the primary process.
“Candidate strength for us is going to be super important,” said one Republican operative, who pointed to 6th District GOP Rep. Mike Coffman as the model for the kind of candidate who could appeal to diverse constituents in a suburban area.
National Republicans are most excited about Jefferson County Commissioner Libby Szabo, a former assistant minority leader in the state House. She could appeal to the district’s Hispanic population.
Other Republicans looking at the race include state Rep. Lang Sias, who succeeded Szabo in the state House. Former Aurora city Councilman Ryan Frazier may also run again. He lost to Perlmutter by 12 points in 2010, and took 9 percent of the vote in 2016’s GOP Senate primary where he finished fifth.
Another Democratic member of the congressional delegation, 2nd District Rep. Jared Polis, is considering a run for governor, too. He’d also leave behind a solid Democratic district.