Erik Aadland Foothills GOP

In this file photo, Colorado GOP U.S. Senate candidate Erik Aadland visits with Republicans after speaking at a party luncheon on June 10, 2021, in Lakewood.

Former energy industry executive Erik Aadland took an early lead  and kept it Tuesday in the Republican primary for the Colorado congressional seat held by retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter.

According to final, unofficial results, Aadland, an Army veteran, ran 12 points ahead of fellow first-time candidate Tim Reichert, an economist and business owner, in the Jefferson County-based 7th Congressional District. Laurel Imer, a former legislative candidate and avid supporter of former President Donald Trump, lagged with 16% of the vote.

State Sen. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, was unopposed for her party's nomination to the seat, which tilts toward Democratic candidates but has been targeted by both parties in this year's election.

Aadland, who switched to the congressional race in December after spending much of last year seeking the Republican nomination for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat, thanked his campaign team and primary rivals after the Associated Press declared he had won the primary at about 8:15 p.m.

Said Aadland: “Now, I am ready to face Brittney Pettersen in the general election and prove that Coloradans do not want the radical ideologies she is trying to force upon us. The wind is at our backs, and I am confident voters will choose me to be their champion in November to represent them honorably in D.C."

Pettersen turned to the general election in a statement.

"As the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has demonstrated, there could not be more at stake in this election," she said. "Colorado’s 7th District deserves a champion in Congress committed to standing up for reproductive rights, expanding access to health care, and fighting for working families, and I will be that champion."

In a concession statement thanking his primary opponents, Reichert kept his focus on the Democratic candidate.

“Despite tonight’s results, the fact remains that Brittany Pettersen is simply too radical to represent Colorado’s 7th Congressional District," Reichert said. "I will continue advocating for solutions that will curb inflation, reduce the cost of living and secure our borders. And I urge all voters to join me in this fight to keep Pettersen’s progressive policies out of Washington, D.C., and from further harming Colorado families.”

U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tore into the GOP's freshly minted nominee in a release.

“In a party filled with extremists, Republican nominee Erik Aadland outpaces them all," Maloney said. "Erik Aadland’s embrace of dangerous conspiracy threatens Coloradans’ most fundamental rights, while doing nothing to address the legitimate issues Coloradans face.

"In Brittany Pettersen, Coloradans have an obvious choice to succeed Rep. Ed Perlmutter. For a decade in the state legislature, Brittany fought tirelessly for Colorado families, making historic strides to bolster public safety and expand education access. Colorado families deserve a fighter like Brittany Pettersen working on their behalf in Congress.”

Since its creation in 2002, the 7th CD has evolved from one of the most competitive seats in the country to the Democratic-leaning seat won eight times by Perlmutter. Following last year's redistricting, however, the seat was drawn to be slightly more favorable toward Republicans and drew attention from both national parties, who include it on their lists of potential battlegrounds.

Watch: KUSA coverage of primary election

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