By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Republicans believe this is their year to defeat two-term U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter in CD 7. The National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted the race and already has sent out its first round of partisan robo-calls in the district.
But Colorado’s 7th Congressional District Republican Chairman, Nathan Hatcher, said the road to unseat Perlmutter could be uphill for any Republican challenger. The Democratic incumbent, he acknowledged, is not as vulnerable as some in his party might like to think.
Four candidates are vying for the chance to challenge Perlmutter: Two-term Aurora City Councilman and military veteran Ryan Frazier; Navy veteran, Fed-Ex pilot and former John McCain staffer Lang Sias; Bennett school board member and self proclaimed cowboy Mike Sheely; and engineer Michael Deming.
The candidates agree on most issues except Deming, who is against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and favors abolishing the Federal Reserve.
Hatcher said a Republican would need at least one million dollars to be competitive with Perlmutter.
“I’m kind of an optimist there,” Hatcher said. “Some people say a Republican may need three to four million [dollars].”
Frazier said he is up for the challenge. He out raised Perlmutter in last year’s fourth quarter with $434,451, although Perlmutter has $1,045,319 cash on hand to Frazier’s $280,355 as of the end of last year. The results of this year’s first quarter numbers are due to be released by next week.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Frazier said. “I don’t have shadow of a doubt that this will be a cakewalk, but I’m up for it. The people deserve a clear choice, and we are going to give them that.”
CD 7, the suburban district that circles Denver, was drawn after fast-growing Colorado gained a new Congressional seat following the 2000 census. Republican Bob Beauprez squeaked out the first election in 2002 by only 122 votes over Democrat Mike Feeley and cruised to a 54.7 percent to 42.8 percent victory over Democrat Dave Thomas in 2004. Beauprez then vacated the seat for his unsuccessful run for governor in 2006.
Democrat Ed Perlmutter seized the seat with 54.9 percent to Republican Rick O’Donnell’s 42.1 percent in 2006 and remained in Congress with a blowout 63.4 percent to 36.5 percent win over Republican John Lerew in 2008.
Sias, a 23-year military veteran, pulled in $30,931 in last year’s fourth quarter. Sias pointed out that he only announced his candidacy on Dec. 3, 2009 and his numbers only represented one month’s fundraising efforts.
“We will have enough to do what we need to do and have enough [money] so it will be very hard for anybody to look at this campaign and not view it as legitimate,” Sias said. “I will not expect to have as much money as Frazier, but he’s been at this a year.”
Sheely, a retired engineer who boards horses in Bennett with his wife, did not raise $5,000, so he was not required to file a report at the Federal Elections Commission.
“I don’t want to ask somebody to bet on a horse that hasn’t been entered into the race,” Sheely said in response to his low fundraising totals. “Once we’re all lined up at the starting gate, that’s when the real betting begins.”
Deming reported $229 in contributions in last year’s fourth quarter. Politics, he said, should not be about money. He plans to run a bare bones campaign.
“If this is about money then Ed Perlmutter is going to win,” Sias said.
He added that no Republican candidate would likely catch up with Perlmutter’s fundraising, but the recent election of Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts proves that a good candidate with a chance to defeat a Democratic incumbent will see money and resources coming in from across the country.
The NRCC has helped CD 7 candidates in two ways so far. They have contacted constituents through robo-calls highlighting Perlmutter’s Democratic voting record and — although the NRCC does not endorse a candidate before the primary — they are open to helping candidates build a campaign operation and have done so for a couple CD 7 Republicans.
The NRCC made Frazier a so-called Young Gun Contender. The Young Guns program, aimed at motivating and aiding up-and-coming Republicans across the country, is a three-tiered program culminating in Young Gun status. The NRCC sets up specific fundraising and outreach targets for each level. Frazier reached the first benchmark a couple months ago and met even stiffer ones last quarter. He has a chance to reach Young Gun status if he meets the NRCC’s toughest standards.
Republicans: Perlmutter is vulnerable
Joanna Burgos, NRCC spokesperson, said Perlmutter is vulnerable this election cycle. She mentioned his vote for the health care legislation as a rallying cry for Republicans in the district.
Democratic Congressional Committee spokesperson, Andrew Stone, said they have not targeted the race and he would not comment on the race before the primary.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams said Perlmutter is vulnerable this election cycle, in part, because of the strong field of candidates vying for the nomination. Wadhams said there was not much interest in challenging Perlmutter in 2008 but a shifting political environment will favor Republicans across the state this year.
Frazier said the district’s political climate is shifting because the issues have become nationalized. He said the economy, unemployment, spending and a $14 trillion debt were not as important to people in 2006 or 2008.
“I don’t know if Perlmutter had to run on national issues during the last two election cycles,” Frazier said.
Sias said voters understand analogies between a family budget, a small business budget and a national budget. He said people are inherently fiscally conservative because that is how they must run their family’s budget and that voters want the same thing out of government. Sias said he believes people are fed up with gross national debt and are ready to swing Republican.
Each candidate has been focusing on the caucus and assembly process. Sheely, Sias and Frazier attended and addressed delegates at the Adams County Republican Assembly last weekend. Deming was not in attendance.
In a speech to the Assembly, Sias referenced the incumbent as ‘Ed Pelosi.’ Sheely held up his copy of the constitution and said Perlmutter needs to pay attention to it. Frazier, well regarded for his speaking skills, inspired ‘amens’ from the crowded hall.
Frazier says he has nearly 2,000 volunteers signed up to knock on doors, make phone calls or mail out campaign literature. He has been meeting with delegates in small sit-downs and large groups courting their support.
Sias has also met with as many delegates as possible and has spoken to Republican groups, participated in forums and had coffee with anywhere from eight people to 30. He said he went from zero name recognition a few months ago to extremely positive responses currently throughout the district.
“I think if people take a close look under the hood,” Sias said, “I think they will like what they see here.”
Sheely said he has been solely focused on the delegates. Sheely has been walking the district and speaking with voters about who he is.
All the CD 7 Republican hopefuls said it is too early to decide if they would consider petitioning on to the ballot if they do not receive 30 percent at the congressional assembly in May.
“My chances are just about as good as the New Orleans Saints against Peyton Manning,” Sheely said about the likelihood of securing the party’s nomination. “I like those odds.”
The candidates agree Perlmutter is vulnerable, mainly citing his voting record that has pretty much been in line with the Obama administration. Perlmutter voted approximately 97 percent of the time with the Democratic Party, according to the NRCC. The candidates specifically pointed to Perlmutter’s vote for health care and his support for a public option, his vote for cap and trade, the stimulus bill, the bailouts, union card check and his support for financial regulations.
“I think it’s a pretty extreme voting record and I don’t think this is an extreme district,” Sias said.
Each candidate routinely draws connections between Perlmutter and Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi.
Sias said Perlmutter projects a moderate persona, but Sias said when looking at Perlmutter’s voting record, people would see his connection to the San Francisco liberal.
“I think if you talk to average voters out there they don’t want to be represented by Nancy Pelosi,” Sias said.
“His voting record has been lockstep with San Francisco Representative Nancy Pelosi,” Frazier agreed. “The reality is the people will have a clear choice between Ed’s voting record and my vision for the 7th congressional district.”
Frazier said voters have a clear choice in the Republican primary as well. Frazier is the only Republican vying for the nomination whose held elected office. Sias worked on John McCain’s presidential campaign, and in 1994 Sheely lost a race for the Colorado House. Frazier is currently serving his second term as Aurora’s at large city councilman.
Frazier said the jump from Aurora’s city hall to the U.S. Congress isn’t as big as some might think.
Aurora’s 312,000-population makes the city Colorado’s third largest. Frazier pointed out that he represents a larger constituency than any state senator or state representative.
“City hall is the front line of politics,” Frazier said. “People just don’t send me letters. They come knock on my door and let me know when they got issues. They say, ‘hey Ryan what the heck was that vote about last night?’”
Sias was recently a registered Democrat, but has since become to believe that Democrats have lost touch with his ideals. He switched to the Republican Party in 2007.
“I grew up admiring leaders like Henry “Scoop” Jackson and John F. Kennedy who believed in tax cuts, strong national defense and balancing the budget… I came to realize those principles were no longer the focus of Democrat Party leaders. In my efforts to find a home there, I was squeezing myself into a suit that just didn’t fit,” Sias contends.
Frazier said his time with the Aurora City Council sets him apart from the other candidates because he gained a real understanding of what matters to people.
“It’s kitchen table issues,” Frazier said. “Putting food on the table, a roof over their head, clothes on their children’s back and a quality education…at the end of the day, I understand what people care about at the local level and that’s missing at the federal level… I’m uniquely positioned to bring that perspective to the federal level.”
The other candidates painted their political inexperience as a plus in this tumultuous political climate. Sias said he not been tainted by politics while Sheely and Deming questioned Frazier’s political motives.
Sheely said he thought Deming was in the race for the right reasons and Deming said the same about Sheely. They both agreed the country is in trouble.
“I haven’t figured this out about Ryan,” Sheely said. “Why is he running? He’s wanting a career and I’m just looking to do a job for the people, but with Ryan he wants a career in Washington.”
Frazier says he’s battle tested
The 32-year-old Frazier said his youth and ambition have prompted some to believe he is attempting to be a fulltime politician, but pointed out, however, that while in elected office he also makes a living in the private sector as a business partner in a small information technology business, Takara Systems.
“The reality is that I’m a citizen legislator… I work and serve,” Frazier said. “If anything I’m pulling double duty, working to provide for my family and also working to serve my fellow neighbors.”
Frazier initially announced a bid for Colorado’s 2010 Republican U.S. Senate nomination, but switched to the 7th District race last October.
“At the end of the day it’s never been about title,” Frazier said. “I don’t care about being a senator or a congressman, it’s always been about making a difference, period.”
Frazier said he has no regrets switching to the CD 7 race. He said after reviewing his base of support in CD 7 and the potential in fundraising and grassroots support, he decided the congressional race was the right fit.
Sias said his leadership experience in the military, where he served as an active duty naval officer and in the air National Guard since 1986, as well as his acumen in private business working with entrepreneurs is what sets him apart from the field and from many members of Congress.
“With all due respect, we’ve got a ton of lawyers, a ton of people who served in state legislatures, but not a lot of people who ever run anything or people that have never had to pay attention to a bottom line.”
Sias also said his two tours in the Middle East would be vital in deciding when and how to send U.S. troops into harm’s way. He said very few members of Congress have combat experience and that he fully understands what the country asks of its young people and their families.
Frazier said he is battle tested and is ready to go toe to toe with Perlmutter — a trait he said is absent from the other candidates. Frazier has been politically active in Aurora for more than a decade and said that has allowed him to garner grassroots support unavailable to the other candidates.
“I actually have a track record that people can look at,” Frazier said. “There is not a question of where Ryan has come down on issues, of whether he is fiscally conservative, of whether he stood up for what he believes in, it is a matter of looking at my track record.”
It’s the economy
All four candidates agreed the national debt and fiscal matters would be their top priorities. They want to cut taxes on job creators and loosen regulations on businesses to jumpstart the economy. They don’t feel Perlmutter and the Democrats have done enough to spur economic growth.
Sias said people are hurting. He said the county’s unemployment rate does not tell the whole story because so many people are underemployed.
“I took a pay cut last year and so did a lot of other folks,” Sias said. “The number one priority needs to be the economy and jobs.”
The Aurora Economic Development Council awarded Congressman Perlmutter the ‘A-List Leadership Award’ for his work in bringing in jobs to the district and improving the area economy. On his Web site, Perlmutter says job creation is his top priority and boasts of many economic achievements.
“Where are the jobs?” Frazier asked. “Show me the jobs! At the end of the day results count, results matter. You can do federal program after federal program, but you need to make jobs, not save jobs or plan to create jobs but actually produce jobs.”
Sias said Perlmutter’s few successes in bringing jobs to CD 7 is like a failing test with a few right answers. He said Perlmutter’s votes, which massively raise the debt, would not put people back to work.
Sheely said Perlmutter has only provided the district temporary relief. He said as a Bennett school board member he has seen his district receive federal funding only to have it cut a few years later. He said the district has had to cut jobs after the funding ends and that businesses would be forced to do the same.
The main policy difference among the candidates is Deming’s anti-war stance and Frazier’s support of Referendum I in 2008 that would have established domestic partnerships in Colorado. Deming also wants to end the Federal Reserve.
“I just don’t think Afghanistan poses much of a risk to our well being here in the U.S.,” Deming said. “Most people over there want the same things we want. They want to feed their families and educate their children and it’s a waste of money and American lives to occupy Afghanistan.”
Frazier said he believes marriage is only between a man and a woman and that Referendum I clearly stated marriage between a man and a woman.
“As long as we were protecting the definition of marriage of being between a man and a woman I was not going to get in the way of a legal arrangement between two people,” Frazier said.
Sias has been endorsed by former CD 6 Rep. Tom Tancredo, former Aurora mayor Paul Tauer and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Frazier received endorsements from elected officials across the state including Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker.
Sias said he also received an endorsement from the group Hear US Now, a Denver area tea party inspired organization, which he said speaks to a growing disenchantment with traditional politicians. He said a lot of people who are politically active today have not been involved with politics in the past, and he thinks they welcome fresh faces.
Sias said he shares the anger towards Washington that many tea party participants and others have expressed. He said people understand that the U.S. cannot continue down the same path of fiscal irresponsibility because they cannot run their family the same way.
“What you have is situations where a lot of people… just want to move up the political ladder and when they reach Washington they are very anxious to continue that and start putting their own incumbency ahead of the interests of the people,” Sias said. “What they do is buy our votes by taking a mortgage on our kid’s future. It is easy to be popular when you fund things well below cost by borrowing from the future and saying ‘vote for me again look at what I did.’”
Frazier said he would rather channel that anger. He said many Americans are outraged because they feel they are not being listened too. The silent majority is no longer silent and according to Frazier that is a good thing.
“The goal is, how do you take that anger, that concern and channel that into something good,” Frazier wondered. “And that is helping elect new voices to congress that can rebuild confidence, the people’s confidence, in their representatives and their government.”
Sheely said he disagrees that people are angry. He said they are fearful. They are scared of health care reform and they are scared their freedoms are being eroded.
“[On the Scott Brown Massachusetts senatorial election] is that anger or were they looking for someone who will stand up for this country,” Sheely asked. “That was the turning point.”
Both Sheely and Deming said they decided to run against Perlmutter after participating in one of the congressman’s “government at the grocery” events where local constituents are invited to drop by local grocery stores to discuss their problems.
Sheely said he questioned Perlmutter about the Congressman’s view on the Iraq war and was dissatisfied with his response.
“He is just a typical politician that doesn’t listen,” Sheely said.
Sheely said this conversation with Perlmutter first instigated his political desire, but his “waterloo” came when learning his congressman voted for cap and trade, a bill, Sheely said, that will raise energy prices and is based on a hoax. Sheely said global warming is a Washington conspiracy in an effort for politicians to gain more political power and control over Americans.
“It’s not about me,” Sheely said about why he is running. “It’s about my grandkids and everybody’s grandkids and if we don’t get this thing turned around they won’t have a future. And if they want what their fixin’ to get, they might as well move to England.”
Deming also participated in one of Perlmutter’s “government at the grocery” events and asked the Congressman if he would support ending the Federal Reserve. Deming said the Federal Reserve was created in secret by profit-seeking bankers and snuck into law when most lawmakers were home for the holidays in 1913. He said the Federal Reserve prints money out of nowhere and charges Americans interest on that money, thus causing inflation.
Deming said the Federal Reserve does not benefit U.S citizens and is essentially a private bank profiting off of the public. He said that Perlmutter responded to his question about getting rid of the Federal Reserve by saying Congress already has control over the federal agency. Deming decided to run soon after.
Deming is running on three main issues: stopping reckless spending, bringing home American troops and restoring Constitutional adherence.
Candidates will need 30 percent of delegate votes at the May 20 congressional assembly at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds to get on the August 10 primary ballot.