President Donald Trump’s endorsement wasn’t enough to lift five-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton over right-wing firebrand Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District on Tuesday night.
In a major upset, Boebert defeated Tipton in the Republican primary, leading by 9 percentage points as of 9:10 p.m. Tipton conceded the race.
“3rd District Republicans have decided who they want to run against the Democrats this November,” Tipton said in a written statement. “I want to congratulate Lauren Boebert and wish her and her supporters well.”
Boebert ran a campaign bashing Tipton for not being conservative enough and claiming she was the more Trump-friendly candidate despite the president’s repeated support of the congressman.
On Monday, Trump tweeted his backing of Tipton, saying he is a “great supporter of the MAGA agenda.”
“Scott is working hard for Colorado and has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” the president tweeted.
Shortly after Tipton conceded, Trump showered Boebert with praise.
“Congratulations on a really great win!” he tweeted.
Tipton, known for his low-key approach, didn’t mount much of a battle in response to Boebert’s attacks. He sent out a mailer calling Boebert “Lying Lauren” and defending his record, but didn’t engage much further or empty his financial warchest in defense.
Tipton also didn’t attend a forum for candidates in the district, where Boebert slammed him as failing to fight for his constituents. Tipton won the seat in 2010, defeating Democratic incumbent Rep. John Salazar.
Dick Wadhams, a former chairman of the Colorado GOP, chalked Boebert’s success up to her ability to capture the media’s attention. Her Shooters Grill in Rifle, where the servers pack pistols, has been featured in many stories.
Boebert, a first-time candidate, also raised her name ID by stepping into controversial situations and topics, such as by challenging former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on his gun-control positions and reopening her restaurant in defiance of Colorado’s coronavirus public health orders.
“She worked conservative talk radio pretty effectively in the district and across the state,” Wadhams said.
Earlier this year, Boebert said in an interview that she was “very familiar” with the QAnon far-right conspiracy theory, but she stopped short of saying she was a follower.
“Everything that I’ve heard of Q, I hope that this is real because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values,” she told interviewer Ann Vandersteel.
QAnon followers believe that Trump is fighting enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals. The QAnon name comes from online clues purportedly posted by a high-ranking government official known as “Q.”
Tipton becomes among a handful of U.S. House incumbents to lose renomination this year.
On the Democratic side, former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush overcame James Iacino, a first-time candidate whose family owns the Denver-based Seattle Fish Company.
Mitsch Bush was leading Iacino by 24 percentage points as of 8 p.m. The Associated Press called the race in her favor at about the same time.
Mitsch Bush ran against Tipton in the district in 2018 and lost by 8 percentage points. She decided to run again this year, saying she had learned how to beat Tipton the second time around.
Mike Drake, a 71-year-old Democratic voter who lives near Paonia, said he backed Mitsch Bush in the Democratic primary “primarily because I know her.”
“She came to Paonia several times when she was running against Tipon last time,” he said. “She’s been around here and talked to us numerous times this time around. I ain’t never seen the other guy.”
Drake also said he “didn’t particularly like” that Iacino moved into the district from Denver shortly before announcing his bid.
The Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee has called Colorado’s 3rd District a pickup opportunity, but hasn’t invested money there to back up that declaration. In 2018, the organization didn’t come to Mitsch Bush’s aid and this year a number of big-name Democrats who were eyeing a bid decided to sit out.
Now, with Tipton apparently out of the way, the DCCC was signaling Tuesday night that they are ready to step in.
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“Democrats are well positioned to compete and win this seat with our candidate Diane Mitsch Bush,” DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos said in a written statement Tuesday night. “She has a proven record of standing up for rural Colorado, and her commitment to lowering the cost of health care, rebuilding the economy with good-paying jobs and protecting our natural resources is the refreshing change Colorado voters are looking for.”
Wadhams said Boebert could face challenges in the general election with her far-right message in a district whose largest voting bloc is unaffiliated voters. There are slightly more registered Republicans than Democrats in the 3rd.
“The 3rd has never been a rock-hard Republican district,” Wadhams said. “She’s going to have to figure out how to adjust her campaign to be competitive.”
A sign that the district may be more favorable to Democrats with Boebert as the Republican nominee: Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a University of Virginia project tracking congressional elections, changed the district’s status from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican” following Boebert’s victory.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.