Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter won his 2020 reelection bid by a comfortable 21 points. But the eight-term Democrat woke up Thursday to the prospect of a drastically different race in the 2022 midterms.
Perlmutter was the biggest potential loser in the first version of the state’s new congressional maps released by the staff of an independent redistricting commission.
It was the first such map released across the country as states undergo the process of redrawing district lines to account for population changes in the 2020 census. During a two-hour hearing Wednesday, commissioners stressed multiple times that their map was just a first stab and will likely be revised and amended multiple times before an August deadline.
But Perlmutter’s situation illustrated the peril facing some incumbents — and the Democrats’ tenuous hold on the House majority next year.
Colorado, one of only 15 states where Democrats control all three branches of state government, ceded control of redistricting to an independent commission for the first time this year. Republicans in the state praised the process and said the commissioners had presented a fair playing field.
“It would appear that the redistricting commission did its job well,” said former state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams. “The commission was faithful to its charge to be as nonpartisan as possible.”
But Democrats greeted the preliminary maps as an example of what some partisans have called a strategic blunder. They said the commission’s painstaking attempts to present a level playing field did not take into account the increasingly Democratic lean of the state and expressed optimism that the first version would not stand.
“While this preliminary plan seems to put a thumb on the scale for Republicans, it is too soon to know how the commissioners will change them,” state Democratic Party Chairman Morgan Carroll said in a statement. “In the end, it will be critical that the final maps reflect Colorado’s communities of interest and public input across Colorado.”
With the Census Bureau not scheduled to release official 2020 redistricting data until August, the commission staff relied on a variety of census surveys from prior years to draw its map, according to a memo to commissioners.
The state constitution spelled out rules for new maps, including ensuring that districts are reasonably sized and shaped and that they don’t break up minority groups or other stakeholders in ways that would diminish the power of their votes. The final requirement said the commission should maximize the number of politically competitive districts.
Boebert district more Republican
The provisional map made the state’s 3rd District, represented by GOP firebrand freshman Lauren Boebert, slightly more favorable to Republicans. Boebert and former President Donald Trump each won the district by 6 points in 2020. The new version of the district would favor Republicans by 10 points, according to commission data.
The state was granted a new 8th District to account for population growth when the initial census results were released this spring and all 435 House seats were reapportioned among the states. The commissions’ map would put that new district in a rapidly growing area to the north of Denver with a large Hispanic population, an area that favored Democrats by 8 points in the 2018 attorney general’s race.
The solidly Democratic district in the Denver suburbs that Perlmutter has represented would take in one of the region’s lone conservative counties, making it the most competitive of the eight new districts. President Joe Biden carried the district by 23 points in 2020. According to the commissioners’ projections, based on the results of the 2018 state attorney general’s race, the new 7th District would favor Republicans by 3 points.
Perlmutter’s campaign released a statement saying he supported a different proposal, outlined by the state’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. That map would also put the new 8th District in the Northern Metro part of Denver, but with a slightly different border, and would give Democrats a 6-point advantage in Perlmutter’s 7th District, according to the Denver Gazette.
“We expect the preliminary map to change over time and we hope the Commissioners will focus on issues of legislative concern and communities of interest as is required under the Constitution,” Perlmutter’s campaign said in a statement.
Democrat calls map ‘racist’
Sol Sandoval, one of several Democrats running against Boebert in the 3rd District, put out a statement calling the new map “racist” because of the way it distributed Hispanic voters and candidates.
Under the proposed map, the new 4th District, which would be solidly Republican, would be 31 percent Hispanic, taking in the largest percentage of Hispanics statewide. Sandoval said the only Latino congressional candidates running in the state, including Sandoval herself, would live within the new 4th District boundaries.
“These early maps will not hold up to scrutiny,” she said.
But even Republicans acknowledged that partisan advantage isn’t everything in a state where Democrats have been rapidly gaining ground in statewide and congressional races.
Wadhams, the former Republican Party chairman, said he didn’t know of anyone who has filed to run against Perlmutter and noted that Perlmutter would have a considerable advantage as a “very accomplished” incumbent.
“He probably uses his incumbency as well as any incumbent in the delegation, and as well as anyone we have had in years,” he said.
He added that no matter where the final district lines fall, Republicans would have to recruit quality candidates to win elections.
“Republicans shouldn’t get too carried away by numbers,” he said. “In order to be competitive, it matters who the candidate is. Colorado Republicans have fallen short again and again in statewide and congressional races to recruit strong, credible candidates.”