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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Lauren Boebert’s switch-up throws massive political wrench into Colorado’s two largest congressional districts

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., is seen in the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 7, 2023. Boebert will run for reelection next year in a different district.   (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Zuma Press/TNS)
By John Aguilar Denver Post Denver Post

Lauren Boebert’s current congressional district shares a border with the one she wants to represent next year. But she’d have to drive nearly 300 miles from her home to reach it.

That distance underscores the surprised reactions prompted by her decision last week to abandon the 3rd Congressional District, where she narrowly avoided a re-election defeat in 2022. The controversial right-wing Western Slope firebrand’s announcement of a switch for the November election to the 4th Congressional District, on the state’s Eastern Plains – seeking to represent an even more politically conservative district than the one she sits in today – is not getting the kind of welcome she might have hoped for.

“It looks like she’s so in love with the D.C. swamp that she will do whatever it takes to stay there,” her old friend Greg Brophy, a farmer and former Republican state lawmaker from Wray in northeastern Colorado, told the Denver Post. “Sometimes your friends do things that disappoint you.”

In just minutes, the second-term congresswoman’s Dec. 27 announcement upended the dynamics in two of the state’s eight congressional races. It also prompted speculation about her own fate, given the 4th District’s deeper red hue: Can Boebert increase her chances of returning to Congress in 2025 by throwing her hat into that already crowded race?

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a fellow Republican who’s held the seat for five terms, has announced he won’t run for re-election this year. Candidacy rules don’t require hopefuls for congressional seats to live in the district they want to represent, though they must reside in the same state. Boebert has said she plans to move to the 4th District this year.

So far, views on Boebert’s chances – and her bombshell decision – are mixed, even among Republicans.

Colorado GOP chair Dave Williams last week chastised her for “jeopardizing our ability to retain Congressional District 3 as well as our slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.” RINO Watch Colorado, an organization that targets GOP candidates that it says have betrayed their conservative bona fides, followed up with a scathing denunciation of Boebert’s move, characterizing it as a surrender to “the enemy” and an egregious example of carpetbagging.

“Her self-serving bid to hold on to power guarantees CD3 will now go to a Democrat or a uni-party Republican In Name Only,” the group posted on its website.

The 3rd District includes most of western Colorado and many southern counties. The 4th District covers the state’s rural eastern third, along with a chunk of Douglas County, a Republican stronghold for decades in south metro Denver. The two districts are Colorado’s most expansive.

They border each other in southeastern Colorado along the Pueblo, Crowley and Las Animas county lines – far away from Boebert’s longtime home in Garfield County. Her statement last week noted that she “spent years living on the Front Range” and played up the two districts’ common rural interests.

For her part, Boebert argued her switch would make it more likely that Republicans, who now have a seven-seat edge, could “protect our House majority” by holding onto Colorado’s 3rd and 4th districts. She said in her statement that the 4th District “is hungry for an unapologetic defender of freedom with a proven track record of standing strong for conservative principles.”

Sandra Hagen Solin, a Loveland-based Republican political and policy strategist, called Boebert’s decision “both savvy and desperate.”

“Her desire to maintain some semblance of power and enjoyment of a prominent media profile motivated her to seek an alternative path in the face of a very likely defeat in CD3,” Solin said. “CD4, with its significant Republican advantage and Congressman Buck’s departure, presented the perfect opportunity for her.”

An analysis produced for Colorado’s redistricting commission of the results of eight elections between 2016 and 2020 found an average 9.3-percentage-point advantage for Republican candidates over Democrats in the 3rd District. The Republican advantage in the 4th District averaged 26.6 percentage points.

Boebert will bring her positives and considerable negatives to the new district, said Colorado State University political science professor Kyle Saunders. But she remains a force to be reckoned with.

“There are other (Republican) candidates she must defeat for the nomination, but with her cash on hand and her name recognition, she has to be the favorite as of today,” Saunders said.

‘Downsides’ for Democrat Frisch in District 3

The candidate with the most to lose in Boebert’s district shuffle, political watchers say, is Democrat Adam Frisch.

The former Aspen city councilman’s campaign to represent the 3rd Congressional District has largely cast him as an alternative to the chaotic “angertainment” he claims Boebert has stirred up.

Frisch came within a half percentage point of unseating the congresswoman in the 2022 election and has raised more than three times the money Boebert has in this cycle. There are two other Democrats in the race.

“Rep. Boebert’s exit from the 3rd District likely provides more downsides to Adam Frisch than upsides,” said Justin Gollob, a political science professor at Colorado Mesa University. “It is important to remember that the 3rd is a Republican district that became competitive in no small part because of Lauren Boebert.”

The congresswoman’s controversial conduct, including public statements that have generated headlines, culminated last fall in her humiliating removal from a performance of the musical “Beetlejuice” in Denver after fellow patrons complained she was acting inappropriately. Her antics inside the Buell Theatre, which included surveillance video footage of her groping her date and vaping, prompted several Republicans – both inside and outside her district – to abandon her reelection effort and back GOP challenger Jeff Hurd.

Frisch, Gollob said, has “spent a lot of time messaging (and fundraising) that he is the candidate who can beat Lauren Boebert, and it will be interesting to see how the Frisch campaign adjusts to this new reality.”

Hagen Solin predicts his fundraising will slow significantly – while Hurd’s goes in the other direction.

Hurd, a Grand Junction attorney who raised more than $400,000 during his first six weeks in the race and now leads the GOP field in the money game, didn’t mention Boebert in reacting to her district switch.

“We have the support of elected and previously elected Republicans all over the state and district, and I will fight every day to ensure this seat stays in Republican hands,” he said.

Four other Republicans are in the race, including former state Rep. Ron Hanks, a Donald Trump devotee who announced his candidacy last week. Russ Andrews, a financial adviser who is second in fundraising among Republican candidates, wished Boebert well and immediately turned his focus on Hurd.

“Now more than ever it is important to unite behind a candidate who will represent our district’s priorities and values, not someone who will turn his back because his endorsers have guided him to do so,” Andrews said in a news release.

Frisch’s campaign said its focus “will remain the same” – namely “defending rural Colorado’s way of life and offering common sense solutions to the problems facing the families” of the district.

‘A bigger gunfight on the Eastern Plains’

Boebert’s path in the 4th Congressional District has plenty of potential hurdles and obstructions.

With no fewer than nine Republican candidates now in the mix for the June primary, Democratic political strategist Andrew Boian predicted the district would be “enormously tough” for Boebert to win. The latest entrant is House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, a Wellington Republican who planned to announce his candidacy Wednesday.

“This is viewed by many as a desperate move and one that most likely proves ultimately fatal for her political career,” Boian said. “With the Iowa caucuses (in the presidential race) just a few weeks away, the time to have made this jump passed months ago.”

But Steven Peck, the Douglas County GOP chair, called Boebert’s move “undeniably intriguing.”

The large field will offer “competing ideas and visions for both our community and the future of America,” he said. “I am looking forward to hearing a robust policy debate around the best ways to solve these problems and move beyond the headlines.”

Brophy, the former state lawmaker from Wray, said Boebert may be able to rely on her famous name to win a plurality in the GOP primary – “unless the people who want a more serious conservative leader decide to rally around one of the others and bring real resources.”

Candidate Richard Holtorf, a Republican who represents seven plains counties in the state House, looked down on Boebert’s chances. A third-generation cattle rancher who lives about 20 miles north of Akron, he said Boebert is kidding herself if she thinks she can lay claim to eastern Colorado simply by laying down stakes.

“She doesn’t even know all the counties in the district,” he said. “She doesn’t know the district. She’s just trying to keep that job in D.C.”

The Eastern Plains is a wholly different beast from the Western Slope, Holtorf said, almost entirely agricultural and ranching-based, and devoid of the ritzy ski resorts and outdoor tourism that characterize the 3rd District.

“She’s running from a fight on the Western Slope,” he said, “and she’s running into a bigger gunfight on the Eastern Plains.”