With less than a week to go before ballots are counted, the race for the 7th Congressional District seat between incumbent Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter and his Republican challenger, Joe Coors, is coming down to a hard-fought chase for votes after a campaign that has turned brutal in recent months.
“We have this saying in Jefferson County — if you walk, you win,” said Perlmutter at a rally for volunteers on Sunday. “It’s the personal contact you make, it’s that door-to-door contact… when you look somebody in the eye and you explain why you feel it’s so important.”
“I never thought I’d be part of a process like this, but I really am energized, I’m having fun, I’m learning an incredible amount, and I can’t wait to represent CD 7 back in Washington,” Republican congressional candidate Joe Coors says at a honk-and-wave event along with his wife, Gail, and dozens of supporters and GOP legislative candidates on Oct. 30 in Arvada.
Saying he was “feeling fine and energized,” Coors paused for a moment as he waved a campaign sign at passing motorists in Arvada on Tuesday morning. “I never thought I’d be doing something like this,” he smiled as a woman waved and honked her horn “It’s wonderful to get this kind of response — the thumbs up, and the occasional thumbs down, that’s OK — it’s a wonderful experience.”
The candidates — they were longtime neighbors in the tony Applewood community — pledged to run a positive race, but in recent months, bolstered by millions of dollars in outside spending, they have been subject to attack after attack in a barrage of ads.
Perlmutter staffers — and the candidate himself — donned yellow rain ponchos in a web video poking fun at the negative tone that has overtaken the race. “Most campaigns are rough, but I’ve never seen mudslinging like this before,” says campaign spokeswoman Leslie Oliver in the video. “In fact, this week, we had to institute a mandatory poncho policy for all the Perlmutter staff.”
In an interview with The Colorado Statesman, Oliver blasted the Coors campaign’s “war of ads” — particularly a Coors ad that went after Perlmutter’s ex-wife and was termed “despicable” by The Denver Post — and blamed the Republicans for going negative first.
“That ad was totally untrue, deceitful — they’ve all been misrepresentations, and they’ve all been stretch-ing the truth,” she said. Coors threw the first punch, she said, with attacks that she said were blatantly false representations of Perlmutter’s positions.
“They had billboards attacking Ed on the Keystone XL pipeline,” she said. “They lied and said he opposed it, but he supports it and has always supported it. He thinks it’s jobs and it helps us reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.”
The Coors campaign has a different take.
“Let’s set the record straight in terms of who went negative first,” said Coors spokeswoman Michelle Yi. “The Perlmutter campaign loves to say that we went negative first, but when in actuality, let’s be real. You can go back to January when we announced, and they’re trying to start this class warfare that Joe is this country club elitist — I’m paraphrasing — when Ed Perlmutter’s dad was president of that country club at some point. The mudslinging, the jabs were there right from the start. In terms of who went negative first, there’s no doubt, it was the Perlmutter campaign.”
Coors took particular offense at Perlmutter attacks that claimed he supervised outsourcing jobs to Mexico and South Korea when he was CEO of CoorsTek, a porcelain and advanced materials manufacturer based in Golden. Coors maintains he was expanding capacity in a global market, though the Perlmutter campaign points to corporate communications that boasted about transferring manufacturing jobs to lower-cost countries.
“That’s what their investor relations materials say,” Oliver said. “Ed’s point is, that’s what Joe Coors did as CEO, it happened under his watch at CoorsTek. He says he’s a jobs creator — he creat-ed jobs in other countries. Ed is focused on creating jobs here in this country.”
In a mailing that appeared to be delivered mostly within the 7th District — its redrawn boundaries after redistricting encompass northern Jefferson County and western Adams County — the company defended its long history as a hometown job creator, noting that the firm employees more than 1,000 people in Golden. The postcard includes a link to a website that tells the story of CoorsTek, including this summary: “While the great majority of our employees are in the United States, we have made strategic acquisitions of precision manufacturers to serve customers overseas. We live in a global economy, and CoorsTek is uniquely positioned to create new American jobs to manufacture goods for customers in overseas markets…”
“It’s a little fishy and questionable that it came out just a few days before the election,” said Oliver, who wondered whether the mailer ought to be reported as an electioneering expense — by midweek it hadn’t shown up on FEC reports — because the website includes a video clip questioning a Perlmutter ad. “It walks a fine line,” she added.
Yi dismissed criticism of the mailer, saying campaign staff was as surprised as anyone when it showed up in the mail on Saturday.
“If anything, it’s CoorsTek defending its name. Whether it helps us or not, I guess we’ll see on Election Day. I guess it does reinforce what we’ve been saying, that CoorsTek doesn’t outsource jobs, that it creates jobs in the district,” she said.
At press time, a spokesman for CoorsTek hadn’t responded to a request for comment on the mailing.
The Perlmutter campaign also raised eyebrows over last week’s FEC filings, which show that Coors has self-funded his race to the tune of $3.1 million. Through the most recent filings, Perlmutter reported raising $2.7 million, while Coors reported a total of $4.3 million, including $3.1 million from himself.
“I think we always knew that was what he was going to do, so we’re not surprised,” said Oliver. “It’s a daunting task, but our whole strategy is the ground game and getting out our vote.”
Yi scoffed at the notion Coors was buying the race.
“Only an incumbent Democrat, a seasoned career politician, could say that voters could be bought — they can’t be bought,” she said. “All Joe is doing is running a serious campaign.”
“We’re just trying to remain competitive — we’ve had $1.7 million poured in against us over a few weeks in September,” Yi said, pointing to outside spending by unions and party committees opposed to Coors. “Joe’s always been serious about running a competitive race, and he’s doing what it takes to remain competitive.”
She added that Coors’ self-funding was nowhere near the nearly $6 million poured into his own campaign by Democrat Jared Polis when he won an open seat in the 2nd Congressional District. “At the end of the day, the bottom line is, Jared Polis still holds that record.”
The district tilts toward Democrats, with 35 percent of active registered voters, ahead of the 29 percent Republicans and 34 percent unaffiliated voters. It’s a slightly wider margin than Perlmutter enjoyed two years ago. At the same point in 2010, Democrats counted 37 percent of active voters, compared with 32 percent Republicans and 30 percent unaffiliated voters.
Two other candidates appear on ballots for the 7th CD. Perennial candidate Douglas “Dayhorse” Campbell is running on the American Constitution Party ticket, and Buck Bailey is the Libertarian nominee. Neither has reported any donations to the FEC. In 2010, Bailey was the only third-party candidate on the ballot for the seat, and he won 4.8 percent of the vote.
In the only publicly released polling in the district, Coors led by 9 points, according to a poll conducted for his campaign in July. The Perlmutter campaign said its own internal polling painted a different picture but declined to release its data.
“We’ve closed the gap, it’s a horse race, it’s down to the wire,” Coors said on Tuesday. “I can remember Bob Beauprez winning by 121 votes — it could be that close or not, it’ll be interesting next Tuesday to find out.”
When the 7th District was created after the 2000 Census, it was one of the most evenly divided districts in the country, and was the closest congressional race in the country in the first election for the seat, when Republican Beauprez defeated Democrat Mike Feeley by just 121 votes. The margins have been wider in subsequent elections, but it swapped parties in 2006 when Beauprez stepped aside to run for governor and Perlmutter won the seat. He defeated a strong challenge by Republican Ryan Frazier in 2010 by a margin of nearly 12 points in a year when two other Democrats in Colorado lost their seats.