Why to Watch Colorado's 7th District

Incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter finds himself in a re-election bid too close to call in Colorado's 7th Congressional District, a national bell that may indicate which way voters will go on November 2nd. His Republican challenger Ryan Frazier has a one point advantage according to the only major poll available on the race, which was conducted by the Republican leaning Magellan Strategies poll in late August: 39 percent versus 40 percent for Frazier, well within the poll's 3.4 percent margin of error.

Despite the paucity of polls, the idea that Perlmutter, who won re-election in 2008 by almost 30 points, would be fighting for his political future this year is significant because of the make-up of the district he represents. Colorado's 7th District came about after the 2000 Census showed the state's population had increased enough to warrant another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. With Republicans and Democrats unable to agree on boundaries for the new district, a judge decided for them.

The new district included largely liberal communities in suburbs near Denver, and extended out into the more rural, conservative eastern plains of Colorado. "That was really in many ways like a reformer's fantasy district," according to Assistant Law Professor Seth Masket at the University of Denver. "It was almost perfectly balanced between Republicans, Democrats and Independents."

An instant bellwether was born: a congressional district that almost exactly mirrored the voter breakdown in Colorado, as well as the nation as a whole. And this year, "For those [who] are Republicans, it's considered a majority maker," GOP candidate Frazier states. "In other words, we win the 7th Congressional District; we will win a sizeable majority in the House of Representatives this November."

Another thing that makes this race one to watch is that the positions of the candidates themselves do seem to reflect the current national debate. Frazier, who sits on the Aurora City Council, does not come across as the stereotypical Tea Party backed extremist a la Christine O'Donnell. He portrays himself as a model conservative focused on jobs, fiscal responsibility and reining in what he sees as an out of control Congress.

Perlmutter, unlike many incumbent Democrats this year, makes no apologies for supporting President Obama's policies on contentious issues like health care reform and the stimulus bills. "We were headed into a terrible economic abyss," he says. "We've been climbing out of it and we've got a long way to go. But we were in deep trouble if we didn't do something."

To win the district, candidates must win the support of Independents. As Masket points out, "Independents in reality do tend to lean one way or the other, they tend to vote pretty consistently Republican, or pretty consistently Democratic." They leaned right in 2002 and 2004, handing the seat to Republican Bob Beauprez. In 2006 Independents in the 7th District began leaning left, just as they did in the state, and the nation as a whole.

Ed Perlmutter won that year, and easily retained the seat in 2008, when then-candidate Obama accepted the Democratic nomination at Invesco Field in Denver. As in the state and the nation, this year, the tide seems to be turning red again in Colorado's 7th District.