“Whether I win this election will be entirely based on the strength of my candidacy and my campaign,” says Ryan Frazier, the Republican candidate for Congress in Colorado’s seventh district. It seems like a fairly pedestrian assertion, but in Frazier’s case, it’s not. If he chose to, Frazier could easily contend that his electoral fate rests on any number of unique factors: His state, where a slow-motion gubernatorial train wreck threatens to derail the entire GOP ticket; his district, which Barack Obama won handily in 2008; and his race—Frazier is black. Outside factors, however, leave Frazier unfazed. His goal is to focus on issues, work hard to introduce himself to voters, and to defeat incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter.
In 2008, Barack Obama won CO-7 by 19 points, and Perlmutter—a Congressional freshman at the time—reaped the benefits, winning a landslide victory. This year will be different. Perlmutter’s last Republican challenger didn’t come close to hitting the six-figure mark in campaign funds; Frazier has banked $1.2 million and counting. Perlmutter’s previous opponent was virtually unknown in the suburban Denver district; Frazier has been faithfully pounding the pavement and shaking hands. Three weeks ago, Frazier's campaign launched an on-air blitz that will continue throughout October. Those efforts are paying dividends. Whereas Perlmutter led comfortably at virtually every step of his 2008 race, in 2010, the latest poll shows a virtual tie.
“On the ground, there is no sense of loyalty to the Democratic Party,” Frazier says of his district. Indeed, CO-7’s party registration breaks down nearly evenly between Democrats and Republicans. As is so often the case, this election will be determined by independents. Frazier is confident he can win over the independent vote. “They’re breaking our way. This district could be a bellwether for the entire country, based on the decisions of independent voters,” he says. Along the same lines, Frazier explains it wasn’t difficult to hone in on a few central campaign themes tailored to appeal to a wide base of voters. “People fear for the future of the country,” he says, “and a lot of that has to do with the actions of this Congress.” He says most voters’ expectations aren’t overly complicated--They’re seeking candidates “who know how to get the economy going again by incentivizing private business investment, who will work responsibly toward a balanced budget, and who understand that members of Congress must be accountable” to the people who send them to Washington.
Frazier argues that Permutter, and the man whose coattails he rode to victory in 2008, have proven themselves incapable of fulfilling these three core functions. “Six months ago [Perlmutter] was a proud champion of the health care bill,” Frazier says. “Now he won’t talk about it. It’s nowhere in his campaign literature. Why is that?” he asks rhetorically. As for the president, Frazier believes many Coloradans are experiencing “significant buyers’ remorse because they realize they were sold a bad bill of goods. [Obama] isn’t hated in the seventh district; it’s more of a genuine sense of disappointment in his performance as president.”
The only recent poll of the district confirms Frazier’s instincts. Magellan Strategies, a Republican polling firm, released a CO-7 voter survey in late August showing Frazier edging by Perlmutter by the narrowest of margins, 40-39. Frazier performed admirably in the poll, despite a substantial name recognition deficit, largely because both Obama and Perlmutter are underwater. The incumbent Congressman only registered a 36 percent job approval rating, and the president didn’t fare much better: a 39/57 disapproval tally—almost a perfect facsimile of his 2008 victory margin in the district, but in reverse.
Frazier’s campaign has also been buoyed by the assistance of national figures, including former Clinton strategist Dick Morris, former Bush White House officials Dana Perino and Karl Rove, and talk show hosts like Hugh Hewitt and Sean Hannity. “From everything we’re seeing, it’s a very tight race—within the margain of error,” Frazier said, expressing his gratitude to those who have spotlighted his race as a worthy cause.
When other potential complications arise, the low key candidate shrugs them off and steers the conversation back to the issues. Asked about Colorado Republican disarray in the governor’s race, Frazier coolly points out that on the 2010 state ballot, Senate and House races are the top two offices listed. “It shouldn’t be a big deal,” he says calmly. What about his relatively unique status as a black Republican running in a major swing district? “It’s not an issue for me,” he says, with refreshing and convincing candor. “I don’t see it as a good thing or a bad thing. What matters are the issues and being part of a responsible United States Congress. For years, Democrats have taken black voters for granted while Republicans have seemingly ignored them. I’m building relationships and working hard to make sure I do neither of those things.”
Ryan Frazier is a black Republican, running in a Democratic district, bordering a liberal city, against an incumbent opponent who has already begun running negative ads against him. Far from seeming overwhelmed, Frazier is taking challenges that are beyond his control in stride, tackling obstacles he can overcome, working tirelessly, and acting as though he knows it will all pay off on November 2nd. And he just might be right.