Dan Baer had a hectic 36 hours earlier this year.
After ending his term working in Barack Obama's foreign affairs office in mid-January, the newest entrant in the race to replace Democrat Ed Perlmutter in Colorado's 7th Congressional District then offered Donald Trump's transition team a five-day debriefing in Washington, D.C. After the Trump team rejected Baer's offer, he hopped on a plane in Vienna, Austria, and headed back to Colorado. As Baer and his husband, Brian, sat on the plane, Trump was being inaugurated as America's 45th president. The next morning, Baer volunteered at the Denver Women's March.
Baer says his frustration with the political climate has encouraged him to run for the 7th Congressional District.
"The 2016 election was a seismic event," says Baer, a graduate of Littleton's Heritage High School who went on to Harvard before earning his doctorate in foreign relations from Oxford. "For me, it was both a wake-up call and also meant that I was imminently going to be fired and I had to figure out the next chapter.
"On election night, Brian turned to me and said, 'This is significant, and we should go home to Colorado and be part of the community and figure out what we can do to help moving forward.' And I think, more specifically, I believe in the American system of government.... I think we have a narrow window as a society to figure out how to make some of the people who have lost faith that our democracy can deliver."
A diplomat with experience in the private sector, Baer spent the past eight years in Washington, D.C., as a European ambassador in the Obama administration. He worked under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry in the State Department, negotiating several international efforts from both Washington and Vienna, including some testy exchanges with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
"Lavrov walked out of a lunch in [Germany] last December because he slammed at the U.S., and Secretary of State Kerry had already left, so I was the U.S. representative at the lunch," Baer says. "And when I stood up to rebut him, he stormed out.
"We still managed to get things done."
Now, Baer is "coming home" to Colorado, hoping to fill the shoes of Perlmutter, who left the gubernatorial race last month, though he is reportedly reconsidering. Baer is joining a crowded Democratic primary field that already includes Representative Brittany Pettersen and state senators Andy Kerr and Dominick Moreno.
It's not just the fact that he got into a luncheon battle with the Russian foreign minister that'll catch your attention in a conversation with the forty-year-old former Georgetown University professor. Baer's road stories are phenomenal happy-hour fodder (I spent half an hour chatting with him about his six months working on a ranch in the Australian outback, among other unique adventures abroad). But Baer also argues that his experience overseas is part of what sets him apart from his competition in the Democratic primary.
"One of the things that I've heard is that people like the idea of a diplomat," Baer says. "They like the idea of somebody who, when I was working at [the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe], there are 57 countries, and it operates on consensus. It's even worse than the U.S. Congress. You can't get anything done unless all 57 agree. And I had a reputation for being tough on the Russians on human rights, and yet I also negotiated for the United States with the Russians and 55 others, and we got things done.
"I think that's a track record that appeals to people who want a representative who will stand up for what they believe in," he continues, "but who will also be prepared and know how to work with others who we might not agree to figure out where the opportunities are to get stuff done."
Colorado's 7th District has been home to several close elections in the past (Republican Bob Beauprez won this seat by 121 votes out of nearly 173,000 in a recount in 2002, for example), but Perlmutter's relative popularity has made him a consistent double-digit winner ever since he took office in 2006. According to the Cook Political Report, the 7th leans Democratic by six points in a standard year, but it re-elected Perlmutter by more than fifteen points last November and favored Clinton over Trump by twelve points as well.
In other words, it leaned Democratic more than it's supposed to last year, likely because of a combination of Perlmutter's favorability, out-of-state arrivals and perhaps some Trump skepticism in Denver's western and northern suburbs that make up the 7th.
Despite that, Republicans have already said that they're targeting this swingy seat next year. That's likely to mean extra money from the cash-rich Koch brothers and resources from the Republican National Committee, which could make this vacant seat a midterm battleground.
"Most of the people I talk to in Colorado don't see [the 7th] as a safe Democratic seat," says Baer, who lives in Arvada. "They might say it leans [Democratic], and I think that's correct, but I think one of the things to keep in mind is this is a safe seat for Ed Perlmutter. He's made this a safe Democratic seat.
"I think one of the key questions in this campaign is who will be the effective champion for the people of this district."
With Baer only formally jumping into the race last month, he's at an early disadvantage in terms of fundraising dollars, with Petterson leading the pack with over $122,000 on hand as of last month, with Moreno ($76,000) and Kerr ($53,000) also holding their share of cash. But without going into specifics, Baer says he feels he has the financial resources to compete.
"I intend to raise the resources to run a professional campaign. I understand that that's necessary." Baer says. "I don't like the system in terms of the way money influences our political landscape."
With a late start in the campaign and spending the vast majority of his time away from Colorado in the past decade, Baer admits it'll be tough to prove himself initially. But he feels that his pitch of diplomatic expertise and compromising ability will help him stand out against the trio of more established local politicians in the coming campaign.
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"I'm trying to take the opportunities to [listen] wherever I can," says Baer, who adds that the majority of his early focus is listening to constituents. "Whether it's at a bus stop or a coffee shop or at a friend's back yard with some neighbors.... When you're somebody who has left home and has come back, you have to be respectful of the fact that things happened while you were away. I think it's incumbent on somebody like me to be respectful and mindful that I have a lot to learn."
After this interview was conducted last week, news broke that Perlmutter may be reconsidering his decision to drop out of politics. Baer has this to say of the reports:
"Of course I've seen those rumors. I haven't heard that Congressman Perlmutter has made a decision. From the beginning, it's been my intent to run a well-resourced, well-managed campaign that's focused on the future and the needs of this district."