CPR's coverage of the state’s most contested Congressional districts continues with a visit to one that wasn’t supposed to be up for grabs. Until late this summer, most analysts expected that Democrat Ed Perlmutter would easily win reelection in the 7th Congressional District. Now though, Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee reports that Republican Ryan Frazier has a serious shot at the seat.
Previous coverage: The Fight for Colorado's 3rd CD
Next week: Colorado's 4th CD
Colorado’s newest congressional district is kind of a political conundrum. On the one hand, it was designed to be swing district. Its suburban voters are split almost evenly between Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliateds. But it’s also incumbent-friendly -- twice giving the sitting Congressman a double-digit victory. And that fondness for the known quantity is part of why most political watchers, like consultant Eric Sondermann, say they never expected Democrat Ed Perlmutter to have trouble holding onto his seat in this election.
Sondermann: "In a normal political year, or even a aberrant political year, but only slightly aberrant, Perlmutter’s safe. He’s a liked incumbent who’s able to mine votes on both side of the party divide. This is not a normal political year. This has the potential to be one of those big years, one of the tsunami years."
And the district could be at crest of that wave. This close to election day, national groups have started to pull money out of races they see as already won, or lost. And they’re finding new battlegrounds to put that money back into. It’s not just the parties who are interested in this race. Many of the groups formed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United campaign finance decision are also joining in. According to the Wall Street Journal, the American Action Network is buying 1.5 million dollars worth of ad time to attack Perlmutter in the final days of the race. And that’s on top of all the mud the campaigns are already slinging at each other.
The barrage of attack ads is stretching the patience of Lakewood resident Evelyn Drake.
Drake: "You can hardly turn on the TV or listen to the radio any more without somebody saying something about somebody and I just think, c’mon folks, lets talk about the issues here."
Despite the negative ads, Drake still has nice things to say about both candidates. But as she left a voter forum in Wheat Ridge last week, Drake said as much as she respects them both, she knows which one’s getting her vote.
Drake: "I personally came to hear Ed Perlmutter because I have supported him in the past and I think he’s really worked hard trying to get jobs in Colorado."
Drake says she was pleased to hear Perlumutter list his specific accomplishments -- like bringing a Veterans hospital to the district that will create more than a thousand construction jobs, and helping save the Orion space program, which employs people at the local Lockheed Martin facility. These jobs are one aspect of what Perlmutter says is his hallmark: constituent services.
Perlmutter: "Whether you’re helping that one person get the passport, or the one lady to get her mortgage modified, or you’re working with a major company and its employees like Lockheed to continue moving forward with the space capsule project, those are the kinds of that things I really believe make a difference to voters."
But while Perlmutter may focus on helping constituents locally, many of those same voters seem to be more interested in national concerns right now. Over the past two years Perlmutter has supported many of the most controversial pieces of President Obama’s agenda, including the stimulus package and health care reform. Those bills are unpopular with some of his constituents, but Perlmutter says he’ll have no regrets even if they cost him the election.
Perlmutter: "I’m pleased with the work that we did. It wasn’t perfect, we made a lot of tough decisions in a tough climate. And there are a lot of things we are going to have to go back and iron out wrinkles and deal with issues."
But whether Perlmutter gets to return to Congress to fight for those changes may rest with voters like Dick Matthews of Wheat Ridge.
Matthews: "I’ve had yard signs up for him, I’ve walked the streets for him, but not after the performance of Congress for the last term."
MV: "Was there anything in particular that was a breaking point for you?"
Matthews: "His vote on card check... Obamacare... A lot of the bank bailouts. Right down the line I just think it was bad public policy."
Republican Ryan Frazier is hoping voters like Matthews will give him the edge come election night. Frazier is a newcomer to state-level politics -- a two-term Aurora city council member, his resume also includes a stint in the Navy, a founding role in the charter school his children attend, and past jobs in telecommunications and aerospace.
Frazier’s current employment has become something of a campaign issue. He’s a partner in Takara Systems, a small company that helps facilitate business-to-business relationships. Journalists have noted the Takara didn’t appear to have a working phone until recently and now doesn’t answer calls or return messages. Perlmutter’s campaign is attacking a section of the Takara Systems website that uses the header “outsourcing” and discusses foreign business opportunities. Frazier says Takara Systems is just a start-up venture, too small to be involved in outsourcing or to keep its website up to date. It’s a sensitive topic, since Frazier has made job creation a cornerstone of his campaign.
Frazier: "If you’re creating jobs, through investment, and the right tax policies that incentivize investment, then you are growing your economy and in turn the revenues government has through tax collection to provide the services that people expect."
To do that, Frazier says he’d push for a balanced budget amendment to the US constitution, the continuation of the Bush-era tax cuts, and a reduction to the corporate tax rate. In this heated election season, Frazier sounds fairly moderate; he isn’t calling for a repeal of the health care reform bill, for instance.
Frazier: "I think we need to reform the reform. Because at this point the reality is this -- is President Obama is president, he is not going to support an outright repeal. But I think that if we’re able to have a new Congress, you will see a lot of reforms put forth, like tort and malpractice reform, small business health associations, allowing people to purchase health insurance across state lines."
The key to getting that new Congress may lie in part in Colorado’s 7th district. Republicans need 39 seats to win back the House of Representatives, and competitive races like this one could supply that tipping point.
Frazier: "People are casting the 7th Congressional District of Colorado as a majority maker. In other words, if we win the 7th congressional, without any doubt, we will win back the majority in the House of Representatives."
For both parties, and their allies, that logic is putting the 7th District in the spotlight, and subjecting Denver’s suburbs to an unprecedented onslaught of ads. For a district that’s often described as ‘low-key,’ in both its civic style and its politics, these final weeks before election day are likely to be anything but.