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From left: Former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Republican upstart Lauren Boebert are facing off in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District. (Colorado Sun file photos)

Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush outraised her Republican rival for the 3rd Congressional race, new finance reports show, another sign Democrats are looking for an upset.

Mitsch Bush, a former state lawmaker, raised $2.6 million from July 1 through the end of September, according to figures filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Republican Lauren Boebert raised $1.9 million, her campaign said.

Boebert’s surprising primary defeat of five-term incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton gave Democrats an opening in the contest, and outside money is pouring into the district — the only competitive congressional race in Colorado this year. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s leading organization, is spending about $574,000 on TV ads opposing Boebert to help Mitsch Bush. And the Republican counterpart is expected to join the fray this week.

Boebert, who owns Shooters Grill, a Rifle restaurant where servers carry guns, is attempting to galvanize conservatives and drew praise from President Donald Trump, but so far she has struggled to catch fire and raise big money.

The district — it stretches from Steamboat Springs to Grand Junction, east to Leadville, south to Durango and across the San Luis Valley to Pueblo — favors Republicans, and Trump won with 52% of the vote in 2016.

Boebert’s three-month fundraising total is more than 10 times the $152,000 she raised ahead of her primary victory, but Mitsch Bush — like other Democratic candidates — saw a late influx of campaign cash — 31% of her total — after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Some 56% of Mitsch Bush’s itemized contributions in the third quarter came from Colorado.

To start October and the final push to Election Day, Mitsch Bush had $963,000 in the bank compared to Boebert’s $607,000. Candidates will file a final report next week with spending and money raised through Wednesday.

“I am very thankful to the thousands of patriots across our state and country that have contributed their hard-earned money to help send me to Congress,” Boebert said in a statement.

Mitsch Bush also thanked her supporters in a statement earlier this month. “I am humbled and honored by the support we’ve earned to flip this district and take my pragmatic, bipartisan problem solving approach to Washington — with the support of people from all walks of life and without taking one penny from corporate PACs.”

Both candidates are spending heavily on television advertising. Mitsch Bush spent nearly $1.8 million in the months after the primary, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of TV contracts filed with the Federal Communications Commission. That compares with more than $1 million on TV ads by Boebert’s campaign.

More money will flow into the race from outside political groups in the final weeks

The district has seen nearly $3 million in outside spending from national political groups, according to OpenSecrets, most of it aimed at attacking either candidate. 

The total is moving closer to historic levels. In 2004, outside political committees spent $5.6 million the year Democrat John Salazar won the seat. In 2010, when Tipton defeated Salazar, the spending hit nearly $4 million. And in 2016 — the last time Democrats spent big in the race, about $4.2 million poured in as Tipton defeated former Democratic state Sen. Gail Schwartz, according to OpenSecrets.

In the final weeks, the Democratic House Majority PAC, Republican Congressional Leadership Fund and others are airing TV ads in the district, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of contracts filed through Wednesday.

The ads opposing Boebert often mention her arrest record and previous statements related to QAnon, a conspiracy theory. The commercials aimed at Mitsch Bush highlight her past statement supporting the Green New Deal and progressive organization’s support defunding the police.

The recent outside spending, according to campaign finance and FCC filings, to boost the Democratic candidate:

  • House Majority Project put in at least $848,000 in the Denver market on TV ads opposing Boebert.
  • Women Vote, a super PAC operated by abortion rights group EMILY’s List, bought about $245,000 in TV ads opposing Boebert
  • LCV Victory Fund, a super PAC operated by the League of Conservation Voters, is spending at least $190,000 on TV ads opposing Boebert.
  • The DCCC also is targeting Boebert with $574,000 worth of TV ads.
  • Rural Colorado United, a Colorado super PAC created to oppose Boebert, chipped in about $64,000 on TV ads.

The spenders on the Republican side of the campaign:

  • Club for Growth Action, a super PAC affiliated with the conservative nonprofit, bought at least $488,000 on TV ads attacking Mitsch Bush.
  • Congressional Leadership Fund plans to spend $700,000 on ads attacking the Democrat through Election Day, a spokesman said.
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee begins airing ads Friday, according to contracts filed Thursday.

Updated 12:01 p.m. Oct. 16, 2020: The fundraising and cash on hand totals were updated for Republican Lauren Boebert to reflect new information in a campaign finance filing.

This story is a part of #FollowtheMoneyCO, a project of the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab), edited by The Colorado Sun with support from the Colorado Media Project.

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...