Several Jefferson County politicians tell Colorado Politics they're deciding whether to jump in the race for the 7th Congressional District after eight-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter's surprise announcement on Monday that he won't run for re-election.
The potential candidates include two state lawmakers and a county commissioner whose husband narrowly lost a bid for the same seat two decades ago in what turned out to be the closest congressional race in the country that year.
Three prominent major-party candidates are already in the running in the 7th CD, which leans toward Democrats but is likely to be among the most competitive congressional races in Colorado this year under new boundaries approved last fall during the redistricting process.
State Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, announced on Tuesday that she's running for the seat, which is dominated by suburban Jefferson County and Broomfield and stretches south through a half dozen mountain counties past Cañon City.
The newly configured district's voters preferred Democratic candidates by an average 7% margin in recent benchmark, statewide elections, according to an analysis by the state's redistricting commission, and President Joe Biden carried its electorate in 2020 by about 14%, slightly better than the Democrat performed statewide.
Republicans, however, are salivating at Biden's plunging approval rating and the chance to vie for an open congressional seat in the midterms, when the party that occupies the White House typically loses ground in Congress.
The Republicans already campaigning for the seat are Laurel Imer, a former legislative nominee and devotee of former President Donald Trump, and first-time candidate Erik Aadland, a former oil and gas executive who switched from the U.S. Senate primary to the congressional race earlier this month.
Others considering a run are state Rep. Colin Larson, a Ken Caryl Republican serving his second term; state Rep. Brianna Titone, an Arvada Democrat serving her second term; and, Jefferson County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper, a Lakewood Democrat who launched her campaign for a second term earlier this month.
Larson, who survived a 2020 primary challenge from a conservative former state lawmaker, told Colorado Politics that he has been considering a congressional run and recently travelled to Washington, D.C., to gauge support.
In an email sent late Wednesday, the day the General Assembly convened to launch the 2022 session, Larson said he was occupied with legislative duties but plans to announce whether he's running within a week.
"Yes, happy to confirm I was in D.C. exploring a run for CD7," Larson said. "With session starting up today I have to focus on my bill deadlines, so I need to focus on the legislature for the next few days, but I will make a decision In the next 7 days."
Titone, an engineer, became the first transgender state lawmaker elected in Colorado in 2018 and would be the first transgender member of Congress if she wins election in the 7th CD.
Last year, she considered running in the state's new 8th Congressional District, which covers portions of Adams, Weld and Larimer counties, but decided against it. Now that Perlmutter's seat will be open, she's again weighing a run.
"I'm examining the prospect," Titone wrote in an email. "I think this opening has caught most folks off guard and scrambling."
Dahlkemper, a former school board member, said in an email: "We’re taking a look at it. I’ll make a decision by next week."
Her husband, Mike Feeley, an attorney and former state Senate minority leader, came within 121 votes of going to Congress from the newly created 7th CD in 2002 but wound up losing the squeaker to Republican Bob Beauprez, who served two terms and then stepped down for an lil-fated gubernatorial run.
Perlmutter, an attorney and former state senator, won the open seat in 2006, when it was considered one of the closest battleground districts in the country, and has won re-election by double-digit margins every election since.