It isn’t as if I didn’t understand that it has been 2022 for a few weeks now. There have been plenty of warning signs: I watched the ball fall in Times Square. I mumbled my way through the words to Auld Lang Syne. I kissed a loved one as the clock struck midnight (Ok, so it was my 6-year-old grandson, but still). I turned the page on the calendar or would have if my cell phone hadn’t beaten me to the punch.
But still, 2022 didn’t officially begin for me until Monday when Ed Perlmutter announced that, after eight terms in the U.S. House, he won’t defend his 7th Congressional District seat this November.
That’s the real 2022 — not the year on the calendar, but the year of the midterms and all the statewide elections coming to Colorado, and also many other fine states, this November.
The future is now, as someone once said, but which, as in recent times, may not be cause for optimism (see: 2021). It will also be a test, however, of whether Colorado Republicans have much of a future after a long, long stretch of embarrassing defeats in an increasingly blue state.
And while Perlmutter’s announcement is hardly a shock — he had that fire-in-the-belly issue back in 2017, you’ll remember, when he jumped in and then abruptly quit the governor’s race after Jared Polis decided to run against his good friend, while all the time saying he wouldn’t run for re-election to the House until, in fact, he did — it definitely sets a lot of wheels in motion.
With the House Democratic majority in peril, Democrats are resigning left and right, although mostly left. Perlmutter — a liberal by standard political measurement but a moderate in tone and temperament — is one of the increasingly rare cross-party favorites in Colorado.
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But he is now particularly a favorite of Republicans because the newly-drawn 7th CD he is leaving has only a 7-point Democratic lean, meaning, with a currently unpopular Democrat as president, the seat could be suddenly vulnerable. With Perlmutter running, the seat was safely Democratic, every ratings system agreed. That’s the power of incumbency combined with Perlmutter’s ability in the political arena. Republicans are trying to spin Perlmutter’s decision as fear of a Republican resurgence, but that’s just something opposing parties feel obligated to say.
Perlmutter’s decision does put pressure on Colorado Republicans. If they don’t make serious headway in 2022 — an off-year election when historically the party out of power nearly always gains seats — it’s hard to see when they’ll have a better opportunity. We’ll see which Republicans now enter the 7th CD race. Republican state Rep. Colin Larson is widely expected to run. Democratic state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, who ran briefly for the 7th CD seat in 2017 before Perlmutter re-entered the race, has just announced. Others from both parties will soon follow.
And as you know, Colorado has gained a new district, and, thanks to the state’s move to an independent redistricting commission, the 8th CD was designed to be pretty much a tossup. That’s another opportunity for Republicans, who have a 4-3 deficit in the U.S. House delegation now, which is one of the few areas they’re still competitive in Colorado politics.
Colorado Republicans are facing at least two difficulties, though. One is Donald Trump, who, you may remember, lost Colorado in both 2016 and 2020. And 2020 was a 13-point rout. If Biden’s approval numbers stay low, he could be a drag on Democrats, but would he be as big a drag as Trump would be on Republicans?
The second is the state of the Colorado GOP, much of which is deeply into cuckoo conspiracy territory, starting, of course, with Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters. The party’s most prominent member, Rep. Lauren Boebert, keeps making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. And yet, there are Boebert-style Trump acolytes running in Republican primaries across the state.
Gov. Jared Polis is up for reelection, of course, as is Sen. Michael Bennet. The GOP headline-maker in the Senate primary is state Rep. Ron Hanks, who was in Washington for Trump’s Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally and who announced his candidacy with a video showing him shooting up a photocopier he had, uh, cleverly labeled as a “Dominion Voting Machine.”
Any Republican running statewide — or in the 7th or 8th CD, for that matter — will have to disavow the rigged-election conspiracy theories to have a chance of winning, even though a majority of Republicans tell pollsters they actually believe Trump won. Dick Wadhams, longtime Republican operative, tells me the same thing every time I talk to him — that Republicans will lose if they insist on making Trump’s 2020 race the issue.
It’s hard to find anyone other than a committed Trumpist who would disagree, and yet you’ve got Tom Tancredo endorsing Lori Saine — there’s a dynamic duo for you — in the 8th CD.
The hard truth for the GOP is that whoever runs as a Republican in Colorado in 2022 will be forced to run alongside Boebert, Peters, Hanks, Tancredo and, especially, Trump. The even harder truth for Republicans is that, I’m guessing here, many of those who win a GOP nomination will, even now, be all too glad for the company.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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