The easy take — which, strangely, is often the right take — on Lauren Boebert’s stunning upset of Rep. Scott Tipton in the Republican 3rd Congressional District primary is that the Colorado GOP, already on life support, is now trying to commit suicide.
It’s an understatement, actually, to call Boebert’s win stunning. According to those who have done the research (h/t Ernest Luning), Tipton — scandal-free, supported by Trump, votes 95% party line, a five-term incumbent — was the first such incumbent to lose in a Colorado primary in, uh, 48 years. That’s a lot of years. It’s 15 more years than Boebert has been on earth.
And then when the news broke that Boebert had had some nice things to say about the QAnon conspiracy — which is so wacky that Alex Jones must wish he had invented it — the first thing that came to my mind was Christine O’Donnell, who had upset the establishment choice in Delaware in 2010, and later had to run an ad saying, “I am not a witch.” She cost Republicans a sure Senate seat, losing by 19 points.
Republican strategist Josh Penry had another Republican in mind. “To win,” he said of Boebert, “she has to be more Joni Ernst and less Sarah Palin. She needs to be less ideological and run more as the rugged outsider, which she can do.”
It’s difficult to know what to make of Boebert other than she fits perfectly into Trump World. All I knew about her was that she was a 33-year-old newbie who had splashed her way into national headlines by publicly challenging Beto O’Rourke on guns at an Aurora O’Rourke rally. She answered his “hell yes,” he’d take away people’s AR-15s and similar guns with her “hell no.” And I had learned that she owned a restaurant called Shooters Grill where the wait staff openly carry guns, and, of course, that she’s always packing, too. And that she had won even more anti-establishment headlines by opening her restaurant early in defiance of a statewide ban.
And in her stunning win, with very little money and very little establishment support, she had used her last TV ad, running in Pueblo and Grand Junction, to compare conservative Tipton to AOC — progressive icon Rep.Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — saying that he was “teaming up with AOC and her Squad.” Tipton had supported a, uh, radical bill that would allow coronavirus funds to go to cities with populations under 500,000, meaning every city in the 3rd CD. The charge may have been ridiculous, but it worked.
In other words, she was a Trump acolyte in waiting, whether Trump knew it or not. They’re already post-primary pals, particularly after Boebert, who met up with the Trump team at Mount Rushmore, said the only thing she’d change about the monument was to add Trump’s likeness. You can also see that fits neatly into Colorado GOP chair Ken Buck’s luckless version of the party. But if you’re a Democratic strategist, she’s something else altogether — an opportunity to win back the district. It’s not impossible. Democrat John Salazar, Ken’s brother, represented the 3rd CD from 2005 to 2011.
But give Boebert credit. She won the spotlight. She got attention. And it was no wonder that people call her “media-savvy.” And so she pulled off a huge upset.
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And not just an upset. Boebert won nearly 55% of the vote. Staggering.
Cole Wist, the former state legislator who grew up in the 3rd CD, says he thinks Boebert is a perfect fit in the district. “When you ask if she’s a problem for the Republican Party,” he said, “the most important metric is whether she can win. I think she can, and I think she reflects the district very well.”
“She’s easy to dismiss, but those who dismiss her do so at their own peril,” Wist added.
Tipton has apparently now learned of that peril. But 2020 is no ordinary time to be running for anything. As Penry points out, it’s not just Trump who makes things different in Colorado. We’re solidly in the vote-by-mail era, in the primaries-open-to-unaffiliated-voters era. And in the 3rd CD, Penry notes, the roster of unaffiliated voters has grown from 36% of the electorate in 2014 to nearly 40% now.
“The system has changed,” Penry says. “The mail ballot and opening up the primaries allows more people to compete. And I think that with open primaries there are fewer people wedded to the red-blue BS. I think maybe the perception about Scott was like the Republican majority leader (Eric Cantor) who lost the primary in Virginia — a feeling that he maybe wasn’t as present as he should be.”
Boebert is present, but it may be possible to be too present as she takes on Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, who lost to Tipton in 2018 by eight points. Running on guns is probably a winner in the district. But Boebert is now having to deny she’s a Q supporter. If you’re not up on your way-way-way-way-out-there right wing conspiracies, this is the one in which Donald Trump is secretly doing battle with an international child-trafficking ring led by liberal politicians, Hollywood types and, of course, George Soros. It’s like Pizza-gate on steroids. To believe in this, you have to be either appallingly uninformed or at least slightly insane. Or both.
Boebert had done an interview with a Q-friendly web site, and if you read her quotes closely, it sounds like she may not have actually known what Q is, but thought that supporting Q was what an up-and-coming, Trump-supporting, gun-toting, right winger should do.
What she said was this: “I hope that this is real,” adding, “It only means America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values and that’s what I am for.”
I don’t know what she actually thinks. But I do know her problem is that it will be difficult to unsay what she did say. I assume Bush and her supporters will be reminding voters of that comment from now until November.
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The Cook Political Report looked at the race and moved it from Solid Republican to Likely Republican. But it’s more complicated than that. As matters stand today, Trump would lose Colorado in a possible landslide. Cory Gardner is trying desperately to both shake Trump while also embracing him. It’s a trick that even Gardner may not be able to master. John Hickenlooper is thought to be 10 points ahead of Gardner. And, as Republican strategists tell me, if Gardner can’t close the gap by Labor Day, there’s a great chance national Republicans, who now suddenly have so many Senate seats to defend, could write off Colorado.
Who knows? What we do know is that every Democrat in Colorado will be running against Trump — and that the way to bet is that most will win by doing so. And now, with a Trump sound-alike running in the 3rd, it is no conspiracy theory to believe that it has become the only competitive U.S. House district in the state.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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