Ed Perllmutter election

In this Oct. 8, 2020, file photo, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, hands out flyers during a car rally for Doug Emhoff, husband of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, at East High Schoolin Denver.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter said Monday that he is retiring after next year's election rather than seek a ninth term.

Saying he believes it's time to "pass the torch to the next generation of leaders," the Arvada Democrat said in a statement that he has never "shied away from a challenge" but decided it's time to pursue other opportunities.

The surprise announcement throws the reliably Democratic 7th Congressional District into battleground territory amid a wave of retirements by House Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterms.

“After much thought and consideration, I have decided not to run for reelection," Perlmutter said in a statement. "I have loved representing my friends, neighbors and fellow Coloradans in the Congress of the United States of America. I will miss meeting the voters of the new 7th District — it is truly the most beautiful district in America. It’s got the best of Colorado in it and even though the numbers are slightly tighter we will win."

He added:

"I’ve never shied away from a challenge but it’s time for me to move on and explore other opportunities," he said. "There comes a time when you pass the torch to the next generation of leaders. I’m deeply gratified that our bench in the 7th District is deep and fortunately we have a strong group of leaders who are ready and able to take up that torch."

The 7th CD currently covers suburbs in northern Jefferson County and western Adams County — including Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, Arvada, Westminster and Thornton — but was redrawn in this fall's redistricting process to include all of Jefferson County and mountain counties stretching south to Cañon City.

Under its new boundaries, the district still leans toward Democratic candidates by an average 7 points, according to an analysis of recent statewide elections by the independent redistricting commission. President Joe Biden carried the newly configured district's voters by 14 points in 2020.

National Republicans, who have included Perlmutter on lists of targeted Democrats since last summer, cheered the news he is declining to seek another term

“Ed Perlmutter knows House Democrats won’t be in the majority after the midterm elections," said Courtney Parella, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Campaign. "He made the smart decision to retire rather than lose reelection.”

A spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC that works to elect House Republicans, taunted Democrats in a statement marking Perlmutter's announcement.

“Democrats know they have a simple choice: retire or get fired,” said Calvin Moore, communications director for the GOP group. “Democrats’ retirement crisis has become a disaster of epic proportions because they know they know their failed record will cost them the majority.”

Colorado GOP chair Kristi Burton Brown piled on in a statement issued after news of Perlmutter's decision broke.

"Ed Perlmutter knew that he was going to lose in 2022, so instead he made the decision to retire," Burton Brown said. "In 2022, Colorado Republicans will win CD 7 and provide that district with a representative who will actually deliver."

Two Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination in the district — former legislative candidate Laurel Imer, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, and first-time candidate Erik Aadland, who jumped into the primary last week after spending most of last year running for the U.S. Senate.

Imer wished Perlmutter a "comfortable retirement" in a release but said she is thankful the state will be getting "new leadership in the 7th."

Said Imer: "Ed Perlmutter is no different than any other 2022 Democrat drop-out: he didn’t want to lose his re-election bid in 2022. He can see a red wave is coming in the midterms, and we look forward to seeing this race through to the end."

Aadland thanked Perlmutter for his years of public service and told Colorado Politics he anticipates a "vigorous debate" with the district's eventual Democratic nominee.

“Congressman Perlmutter has served this district for almost two decades, putting aside personal ambition to represent CD7,” Aadland via email. “He also gave of his time to serve our state in the legislature. I thank him for his dedication, and I look forward to discussing and debating new ideas that will represent the people of the district in coming days.”

Perlmutter, an attorney and former state lawmaker, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2006, when the 7th CD was considered one of the most evenly divided seats in the country. Despite well-funded challenges by prominent Republicans — including then-Aurora Councilman Ryan Frazier in 2010 and brewery scion Joe Coors in 2012 — the Democrat went on to win re-election seven times by double-digit margins.

Ahead of the 2018 election, Perlmutter announced his retirement from Congress at the same time he launched a campaign for governor but withdrew from the statewide race months later and instead ran for re-election, winning by a wide margin over GOP nominee Mark Barrington. In the last cycle, Perlmutter defeated Republican Casper Stockham by nearly 22 points.

Two of the Democrats who briefly sought the nomination for the seat when Perlmutter ran for governor — state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Jefferson County Commissioner Andy Kerr — live within the district's redrawn boundaries. Neither responded immediately to messages from Colorado Politics asking if they were considering mounting a bid for for the open seat this year.

This developing story has been updated.