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Nicolais: Is Kerry Donovan the right candidate against Lauren Boebert, but in the wrong year?

Sen. Donovan’s decision to challenge Lauren Boebert in the 3rd Congressional District may come a year too late

Right candidate, wrong year. 

Just over a month after firebrand U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert took her congressional oath of office, state Sen. Kerry Donovan announced her campaign to unseat Colorado’s most recent right-wing lightning rod.

Donovan may have missed her opportunity by about a year.

Nearly a decade ago, several high-profile Democrats passed on the opportunity to campaign against then U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in 2012. After Joe Miklosi lost by only two points, former state Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff decided to try his luck in 2014 and state Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll did the same in 2016. Both lost by significantly larger margins.

Mario Nicolais

It turns out they missed their best chance — just as Donovan may have done watching from the sidelines in 2020.

In December 2019 I wrote that “Boebert poses a very credible threat to [then five-term incumbent, Scott] Tipton” despite the political class consensus that Tipton would brush her away. Boebert’s rhetoric energized the vocal base of the party that plays an outsized influence during primary campaigns.

At the time I suggested that the crop of Democrats ready to take advantage of an upset, including eventual Democratic nominee Diane Mitsch Bush, seemed sorely uninspired. I felt they needed a much stronger candidate and highlighted Donovan as one potential answer.

But that was 2020.

In 2022, Donovan is likely too late to the party. That reality is not a reflection on her strengths as a candidate, but rather Boebert’s changed circumstance and the broader political environment.

Boebert capitalized on the rapacious hunger right-wing media maintain for vitriolic cliches, unsubstantiated claims and unsupported analogisms. And she did it wrapped up in pistol-toting cheer. 

She now has nearly as many Twitter followers — over 500,000 — as she does constituents. She is a darling of extremist organizations and vapid conservative political commentators. She is likely the second most visible member of the Republican freshman class, behind only U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. 

And even then Boebert benefits because Greene’s conduct is so extreme it makes Boebert look comparatively less outrageous.

Boebert can leverage her position into both free media and a fundraising juggernaut for her re-election campaign. That will make her a significantly more formidable foe in 2022 than she was while running for an open seat. 

Even better for Boebert? Donald Trump will no longer be on the ballot and actively dragging Republican candidates down with him. While Boebert is an avowed evangelist for Trumpism, his absence may make the turnout effort for Democrats much more difficult in two years. 

Toss in the historically negative correlation in midterm elections between a president’s party and the performance of congressional candidates from that party, and suddenly the opportunity to topple Boebert seems to slip even further away.

Donovan, or any other Democrat, will be sailing into the wind.

The biggest wild card will be the effect of congressional redistricting. The district Boebert won will not exist in 2022, replaced by a new map that will almost certainly change the political composition of Colorado’s Third Congressional District.

However, there are no guarantees that it will change for the benefit of Democrats. 

To the contrary, on a statewide basis Democrats may want to actually increase the number of Republicans in Boebert’s district. Colorado will gain an additional congressional seat and Democrats will have an excellent chance of winning that seat while holding the four they currently have. Their best chance would be to pack as many Republicans as possible into the three seats they now control — including Boebert’s.

Besides, with Boebert in office, Democrats can continue to use the outrage she sparks for fundraising and outreach purposes. Painting the rest of the GOP with the same broad brush makes it easier for them to win other races across the state.

Sen. Donovan is a strong candidate and would make an excellent member of Congress. It is just too bad she did not come to the same conclusion a little earlier.


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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