Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, a controversial far-right firebrand from Colorado, is within 1,000 votes of losing her reelection bid in a red, Donald Trump-supporting district.
The race wasn’t expected to be such a nail biter—let alone one of the closest races in the entire country. Redistricting this cycle had made the district even more Republican than it was before. But Democrat Adam Frisch, who served eight years on the Aspen City Council, may unseat one of the loudest voices in the MAGA caucus after just one term.
Since upsetting a Republican incumbent two years ago, Boebert has gotten media attention for owning the now-shuttered Shooters Grill, a restaurant where servers were encouraged to open carry firearms; promoting conspiracy theories about the “deep state” and the 2020 election; heckling President Joe Biden during his State of the Union address; and donning a gown printed with the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon”, which has an offensive double meaning towards Biden. One of the reasons Boebert’s race became so close, experts say, is that Frisch has been able to use her behavior against her.
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“You put somebody up as an ‘R,’ they’re gonna vote for them, unless there’s some reason not to,” says Democratic strategist Michael Stratton, a native of Durango, a small city within Boebert’s district. “I think she’s given a lot of Republicans reason not to. Pride, humility, civility. Her outrageous conduct everywhere—I think it’s embarrassed a lot of people.”
To draw a contrast with Boebert’s antics, Frisch campaigned as a moderate who would keep a lower profile and work with both Democrats and Republicans. He said he hoped to join the Problem Solvers Caucus, which consists of members of both parties seeking common ground. He earned the endorsement of Boebert’s Republican primary opponent. His campaign video proclaimed him “a conservative businessman” who supports the Second Amendment, securing the border, and reducing government regulation, complete with shots of a man in camouflage toting a rifle and a patrol car driving by the border wall. He promised not to vote for Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker. He pledged to protect Colorado’s water supply and backed oil and gas drilling in Colorado. One of the few policy positions that aligns him with much of his party is his full-throated support for abortion rights; his website notes that his father was an OB/GYN and his sister still is one.
Republican strategist Zack Roday, who served as campaign manager to Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, the candidate who lost this year’s Colorado Senate race to incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet, says that while campaigning for O’Dea in Colorado’s 3rd district, he found that people thought of Boebert as a Trump-like figure. Some voters felt like she was fighting for them; others thought she was focusing too much on being an entertainer. “The Republican brand is deeply damaged,” Roday says. “That’s a seat that should not be in contention… Too many people went into the ballot box in Colorado and across the country with inflation, the economy, and crime as top of mind. And then they voted directly against their interests by voting for Democrats. And there’s only one explanation for that, and that’s the cancer. That’s Donald Trump.”
Republicans overall haven’t performed in the 2022 midterms as well as they’d hoped. Control of both the Senate and the House are still up for grabs, and while Republicans may take the House, it will likely be by smaller margins than expected. Strategists in both parties are ascribing blame to Trump, who endorsed flawed candidates around the country and tarnished the party with his false claims of election fraud. Throughout her tenure in Congress, Boebert has been one of Trump’s loudest and most extreme boosters.
Boebert’s district is one of the largest in the country, encompassing the southwestern half of the state, spanning mountainous red stretches, as well as bluer resort towns, like Aspen and Glenwood Springs. It’s home to farmers, ranchers, and tourism workers. One quarter of residents are Hispanic. According to New York Times data, Frisch is currently outperforming Biden in nearly every county across the district.
Though Frisch led Boebert by 64 votes at one point Thursday morning, she took the lead and was up by 794 by the afternoon, according to the Colorado Secretary of State. The data also indicates that more than 3,000 voters who cast ballots in the district declined to vote for either candidate.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were still thousands of votes to be counted. In Pueblo County, where Frisch is leading, the uncounted votes included about 5,000 mail-in and 1,800 in-person ballots. Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz says he hopes to have those counted by the end of Thursday.
Even once all the votes on hand are counted, though, the race may still be too close to call. Colorado accepts ballots from military and overseas voters for eight days after the election. Voters can also “cure” ballots that haven’t been counted due to signature discrepancies for the same period. In Pueblo County, the combination of those could amount to another 1,138 votes, which could be consequential given the incredibly tight margins in the race.
Finally, state law requires a recount if the margin of victory is less than 0.5%. While Election Day saw only minor voting issues and many election deniers lose their bids, Boebert’s campaign previously refused to commit to accepting the results of her election if she lost.
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