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Brittany Pettersen is running for the Colorado congressional seat being vacated by Ed Perlmutter

Pettersen is a Democratic state senator from Lakewood who has spent nearly a decade in the Colorado legislature. “I’m battle tested,” she said. “I have what it takes to win this seat.”

Colorado state Rep. Brittany Pettersen speaks during a rally at which former President Bill Clinton urged Coloradans to reelect then-U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, as well as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and other Democratic candidates, in Lakewood, Colo., Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
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State Sen. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, is running for the Colorado congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter

Pettersen announced her campaign to represent the 7th Congressional District on Tuesday, a day after Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, said he wouldn’t seek a ninth term in Congress.

“I am ready to continue Ed Perlmutter’s legacy,” she told The Colorado Sun. “I’ve been wanting to run for this seat for a long time.”

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Pettersen, 40, has spent nearly a decade in the Colorado legislature. She has passed several measures responding to the opioid epidemic and the state’s mental health crisis. She was also one of the prime sponsors of the so-called red flag bill that passed in 2019, allowing judges to order the temporary seizure of firearms from someone deemed a risk to themselves or others.

“It has been such an honor to serve at the state level, because we have such an incredible impact and are able to get big things done,” she said. “It’s been the most rewarding work that I’ve ever done. But I’m excited to step up and represent people here in the 7th Congressional District in Washington and take on bigger responsibilities.”

The 7th District is anchored in Jefferson County but its boundaries changed last year during redistricting to incorporate several mountain counties, including Lake, Chaffee, Park and Fremont. The new 7th District is forecast to favor Democrats by 7 percentage points. That’s based on an analysis of the results of eight statewide races between 2016 and 2020.

Colorado’s new 7th Congressional District. (Handout)

Cook Political report, a nonpartisan election prognosticator, ranked the 7th District as solidly in Democratic hands when Perlmutter was running for reelection. But despite the district’s Democratic lean, it’s still within the 8.5 percentage point margin that The Colorado Sun considers competitive. 

Republicans were targeting Perlmutter before he decided not to seek reelection and made it clear this week that they see the 7th District as a potential battleground as they seek to take back control of the U.S. House. The National Republican Congressional Committee and Colorado GOP said Perlmutter was retiring because he was worried about his reelection chances. 

Pettersen, however, said she thinks Perlmutter’s decision to step down suggests just the opposite.

“Ed wouldn’t walk away if he didn’t think we could hold the seat,” she said. “But I recognize that this is a more competitive district in a midterm election.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, at a town hall in Aurora on Monday night, Aug. 27, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Pettersen, who is married to Democratic strategist Ian Silverii, said she is the right person to keep the 7th District in Democrats’ hands.

“I’m battle tested,” she said. “I’ve always run in competitive races. I have what it takes to win the seat.”

Republicans are likely to attack Pettersen over her 2019 support for a pilot site in Denver where IV-drug users could inject heroin near staff standing by with a drug to reverse an opioid overdose. A bill creating the pilot was never introduced, but conservatives slammed the idea and tried to recall Pettersen over the issue. 

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“That is not a policy that I will be working on at the national level,” she said, adding that “Republicans have failed at trying to use that in the past against me.”

For Pettersen, the opioid epidemic is personal. Her mother has battled opioid use-disorder.

Pettersen, a Colorado native who was the first in her family to graduate from high school and college, ran for the 7th District seat briefly in 2018 when Perlmutter made a short-lived bid to be governor. When Perlmutter reversed course and sought reelection to his congressional seat, she dropped out.

Pettersen had $45,000 in left in her congressional campaign account heading into October. She can use that money toward a 2022 bid.

Ten-month-old Davis Silverii smiles from the arms of his parents Ian Silverii, left, and Brittany Pettersen, right, during a portrait session at their Lakewood home on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to the Colorado Sun)

Other Democrats are expected to run for the 7th District seat.

Two Republicans were already seeking to unseat Perlmutter this year: Erik Aadland, an Army veteran who was initially running for U.S. Senate, and Laurel Imer, who served as a 2020 delegate for President Donald Trump and ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat two years ago.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader, a Republican, was considering whether to run in the 7th District but decided against it. He had been viewed as a top contender to take on Perlmutter.

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State Rep. Colin Larson, R-Ken Caryl, has also been considering a bid in the 7th District.

“I’m the last Republican elected official in Jefferson County at the state or federal level, and I know how to fight and win here,” Larson told The Colorado Sun on Monday. “I’ll make a final decision and announcement soon.”

Colorado’s primary election will be held on June 28.