If you wonder why U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner hasn’t tacked to the center before the 2020 election, look no further than Lauren Boebert, the fiery political novice who announced a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton last week.
Boebert’s campaign perfectly encapsulates the reactionary forces that have paralyzed Republican office holders and threaten to decimate the party.
The big question is whether her campaign, based primarily on her Second Amendment advocacy, will provide the ammunition Democrats need to retake the seat for he first time since John Salazar lost to Tipton in 2010.
Democrats had already targeted Tipton, and the prospect that he may face a bruising primary may cause them to double-down.
Full of energy, enthusiasm, and on-camera charisma – traits she shares with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the “left-wing lunatic” she has promised to antagonize – Boebert poses a very credible threat to Tipton. She knows how to attract media attention and is willing to throw rhetorical grenades with abandon.
And that’s precisely what might overjoy Democrats.
Popularized by then Sen. Claire McCaskill’s 2012 choice to actively help Todd Akin, the most conservative candidate in the field of her potential challengers, win his primary race, Democrats haven’t been shy about injecting themselves into Republican races when it helps their cause.
In fact, before McCaskill’s trick made national headlines, Colorado Democrats had already perfected the strategy. In 2010 Democrats spent a half-million dollars to ensure that Scott McInnis, ironically a former congressman from Colorado’s third congressional district, lost his gubernatorial primary to little-known but strident conservative Dan Maes.
Maes’ historically terrible showing not only cost Colorado Republicans the governor’s office, but almost relegated Republicans to minor party status under Colorado’s election laws.
As I’ve heard Democratic consultant and electoral mastermind Ted Trimpa say on multiple occasions, “It was the best $500,000 we ever spent.”
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And that brings us back to Boebert. Asked about her impetus to challenge Tipton, she cited laws passed by the state legislature, not Congress where Tipton serves. Her claim that she can have the most impact as quickly as possible in Congress rings hollow. Beyond the historical level of gridlock Congress remains mired in, state laws have been at the forefront of recent gun rights debates.
Because Boebert doesn’t even bother to list an issues page on her campaign website, it’s difficult to tell what policy positions she holds or how she would differ from Tipton’s voting record. Given that Tipton has a career 94% alignment with President Donald Trump, it’s difficult to believe Boebert disagrees with him over anything substantive. Rather, her beef with him seems to be solely over style.
Of course, for Democrats to take advantage of Boebert’s campaign, whether she wins or simply weakens Tipton, they need a serious candidate. The current crop just won’t cut it.
Democrats need someone like state Senate President Leroy Garcia or state Sen. Kerry Donovan to step up. Garcia recently brushed aside a recall effort from his Pueblo district with ease and voted “no” on the red-flag bill that drew Boebert’s ire.
Donovan won reelection last year by 20 points in one of the state’s most targeted swing seats, a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats. Though she lives just outside the third congressional district (federal law doesn’t require candidates live in the district they run in), she has long cultivated her image as a member of the Western Slope community through the family ranch she operates within the district.
Maybe they will take another look now that Tipton will need to worry about Boebert for the next six months. But they will need to decide before too long with nominating caucuses and assemblies coming up this spring.
One of the taglines Boebert proudly promotes on her website is “Help Take Colorado Back.” Thanks to her campaign, Democrats in Denver and Washington, D.C., may believe they can even more than ever.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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