By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, parted the large crowd gathered at a Lakewood hotel ballroom. After securing his third term representing Colorado’s 7th District, the congressman jumped from his place at the podium and cartwheeled head over heels through throngs of screaming, sign waving supporters who chanted, “We want Ed! We want Ed!”
Just a short drive down Wadsworth Boulevard at another Lakewood hotel ballroom the mood was decidedly mixed. An ambivalent crowd munched pretzels and sipped cocktails while cheering each time Fox News reported another Republican victory in House districts across the nation. But supporters of Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier were on the outside looking in as the red wave washing Republicans into office from coast to coast missed the 7th District.
Perlmutter beat his Republican challenger handily in this mostly suburban district northwest of Denver with 53.1 percent of the vote (105,616) to Frazier’s 42.1 percent (83,742). Libertarian Buck Bailey received 4.7 percent (9,434). The incumbent secured his third term by winning each county in the 7th District. In Adams County he garnered 50.2 percent to 44.1 for Frazier, in Arapahoe County 59.2 to 36.1 and in Jefferson 52.1 to 43.2.
The race turned into a real dogfight as both candidates traded blows for months. Perlmutter’s victory cartwheel was in direct response to a television ad accusing the congressman of inserting an amendment into a bill to benefit a bank he partially owns. It also accused Perlmutter of supporting the bank bailout only to receive support from corporate Wall Street executives. The ad showed Perlmutter flipping head over heels around Washington D.C. and asked viewers, “Why is Ed Perlmutter doing cartwheels?”
The Frazier camp pressed hard on what they called the “sweetheart deal.” The charge, based on a July 2009 Washington Times article, said Perlmutter slipped a provision in a House energy bill last year that benefited a San Francisco-based “green bank” called New Resources Bank, which the Congressman partially owns. Frazier called on Perlmutter to divest his holdings.
The Perlmutter camp said the charges were false. They said the amendment applied to all banks, was introduced by another congressman and only encourages banks to keep information on hand to help customers make homes or buildings more energy efficient. Oliver said Perlmutter’s shares in the bank were sold at a loss before Frazier made the allegations.
The Congressman’s daughter Alexis said her father’s sudden cartwheel caught her by surprise, but said the campaign’s overall tone was particularly negative and by far the worst she has seen her father participate in.
“It’s tough watching a family member being attacked on T.V.,” Alexis said. “It can get really painful. I’m glad it’s all over.”
Other negative advertising included a claim that Perlmutter supported Viagra for convicted rapists — an ad deemed false by numerous news organizations and eventually pulled by local T.V. stations.
Throughout the campaign, Frazier continually linked Perlmutter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, saying he voted with her 98.3 percent of the time. He painted Perlmutter as a tax and spend liberal out of touch with the district.
Likewise Perlmutter shot back, continually attacking Frazier’s description of “the failed stimulus” by revealing at a debate in late in October that a charter school Frazier founded and currently runs took in more than $100,000 in federal stimulus money.
Frazier said he was unaware that High Point Academy — an Aurora charter school where he serves as vice president and is attended by all three of his children — accepted $107,000 to pay teacher salaries and other expenses. Perlmutter’s campaign spokesperson Leslie Oliver said it was “stimulus hypocrisy.”
Also at issue was Frazier’s attendance record on the Aurora City Council. It was first used against Frazier in his primary election fight against FedEx Pilot Lang Sias, a former John McCain aide, after The Denver Post reported last May that Frazier had the worst attendance record of any of the 10 Aurora City Council Members from May 2006 through April 2010.
Frazier coasted to an easy primary victory over Sias, but the contest produced one of the Perlmutter camp’s most repeatable quotes when former Republican 7th District representative Bob Beauprez in his endorsement of Sias said “He [Frazier] ought to be fired, not promoted.”
“I think Beauprez said it best,” Oliver repeated throughout the campaign.
Beauprez, the first person to represent CD 7 after it was created following the 2000 census, did end up throwing his support to Frazier in late October. In the press release Beauprez said, “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Perlmutter campaign spokesperson Oliver said this election was particularly tough because of the large amount of outside money used to attack her boss. She said the campaign had to contend with three challengers — Frazier, Libertarian Bailey and out-of-state money. Perlmutter held on to a fundraising advantage throughout. He brought in $2,178,564 to Frazier’s $1,494,788.
The lone Democratic winner in Colorado’s competitive districts, Perlmutter looked relieved that his fight was finished as he gave his victory speech surrounded on stage by his parents, three daughters and multiple nieces, nephews and close supporters.
“It’s been a tough two years for America,” he told the crowd. “And this race has been really tough and it really has taken all of us. The support that I got from different organizations and different people was fantastic.”
Gene Childs of Golden enjoyed a glass of wine after learning Perlmutter secured victory. Childs, along with many elated Democrats in the room, flashed purple wine-tinted teeth as the celebration’s victorious nature continued on into the evening.
Childs was a poll watcher in Golden and was excited to see many Colorado School of Mines students show up to the polls. Childs believes Perlmutter was able to avoid the Republican surge that wiped out fellow Democrats Betsy Markey in CD 4 and John Salazar in CD 3 because Perlmutter is great at connecting with voters and then following through with them.
The Congressman said he tried to make himself as accessible and available to people as possible. He said the many voters he talked to during his ‘government at the grocery’ program and those he met while walking precincts were the reason he could “buck the tide.”
“Somebody upstairs, somebody was fooling around saying: ‘You da man.’ No, we da team!” Perlmutter exclaimed. “Thank you very, very much.”
Perlmutter also specifically mentioned realtors, teachers, veterans, labor unions and firefighters for helping him garner a third term.
Sean Jewell is the government affairs director of the West Metro fire district. His smile widened as Perlmutter thanked firefighters for their continued support. Jewell and his fellow firefighters canvassed the district’s neighborhoods and participated in phone banks. He said West Metro fire district supported the Congressman due to Perlmutter’s work for establishing national fire fighter’s safety standards.
“It’s very easy to support someone that supports you day in and day out,” Jewell said.
West Metro fire trucks decked out in Perlmutter for Colorado signs were a big hit as well. The Congressman and his family toured the district on an engine earlier in the day.
Across town Frazier supporters mentioned the economy, the federal deficit, the redistribution of wealth and the health care overhaul as reasons for supporting their candidate — the same issues many Americans noted for ushering in a Republican controlled House of Representatives.
Mike Sonner of Golden said in his 61 years he has never been so apprehensive about the direction of the country. The health care bill drove Sonner to campaign for Frazier. He called voters, put up yard signs and knocked on doors.
“These guys are trying to take us down a road we don’t want to go,” Sonner said. “It’s a travesty they pushed this health care bill on us.”
Judy Merkel of Evergreen said she felt battered upon learning of Frazier’s defeat. She participated in phone banks and canvassing efforts for Frazier. This is the first election in which Merkel volunteered for a candidate and said she wants fiscal responsibility brought to Washington.
“I’m tired of saving my money and watching others abuse the monetary system,” Merkel said. “They always come up with more excuses than I’ve ever had and I’m just tired of people like that.”
In his concession speech, Frazier said although he lost, his message of fiscal responsibility resonated with voters.
“I’m very honored and proud to be someone who lives in this district with you,” Frazier said. “And I want to tell you right now that sometimes you fall down, but the real challenge of an American is how you get back up and keep moving forward. Folks, let me assure you, we are not done. We are not done.”
Republican chairman of the 7th Congressional District Nathan Hatcher said he was disappointed that his district didn’t turn red. He said it was a bittersweet night because his local Republican representative earned a seat in the state house and Republicans did well nationwide.
Hatcher thought Frazier would have fared better, but attributed the loss to Perlmutter’s long history in the district and voter registration rolls favoring Democrats. He noted that Frazier could have run more negative advertising because Perlmutter successfully downplayed his liberal votes.
“People don’t like negative ads, but they sure seem to work,” Hatcher said. “It worked great in Cory Gardner’s district.”
Adams County GOP chair Clark Bolser called the results surprising. He said Frazier was right on every issue that interested voters including deficit spending and repealing the health care overhaul.
“It was so disturbing to see voters with what was their most important issues not get out and support Ryan,” Bolser lamented.
Bolser said Frazier linked Perlmutter to Pelosi at every chance he got, but said maybe it wasn’t enough. Frazier’s presence in Adams County was impressive, he said, but the county is hard to predict. Voters chose Michael Bennet for Senator and John Hickenlooper for Governor, but went Republican in down ticket races for Attorney General, Secretary of State and two House races.
Perlmutter said his next two years in office would focus on job creation. Congress must improve small businesses’ access to credit, so they can buy inventory and hire new people, he said. The Congressman noted that domestic manufacturing must improve and not go overseas. He also mentioned the need to rebuild the country’s transportation, telecommunication and energy infrastructure.
Starting in January Perlmutter and his fellow Democrats will have a tough go at implementing their agenda as Republicans took control of the House on a message of limited government and reduced spending. Perlmutter said he would reach across the aisle in order to restore the U.S. economy.
The 7th District was created after the 2000 census and includes parts of Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties. The 7th was one the country’s most evenly split districts in 2002 with Republicans, Democrats and Independents each holding a third of registered voters. That year Republican nominee Beauprez eked out a 121-vote victory over Democratic candidate Mike Feeley out of nearly 170,000 votes cast.
The district has trended Democratic of late. Perlmutter won the seat in 2006 by over 20,000 votes and in 2008 by nearly 73,000 votes. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by 22,422 as of Nov. 1.
No one from the Frazier campaign returned numerous phone calls for comments.