If ever there was a race that needed more analysis, it is Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.
Adam Frisch, who ran a masterful if under-the-radar campaign against first-term Republican incumbent Rep. Lauren Boebert, has been relentlessly described as a long-shot candidate. Yet here we are, with Frisch standing less than 1 percentage point shy of Boebert as of writing this column.
Most people didn’t see Frisch coming. Since Election Day, multiple news outlets have been forced to run headlines asking, “Who is Adam Frisch?” Undoubtedly, it’s a question best asked before voters submit their ballot.
One Denver-based journalist, Kyle Clark, even apologized for failing to do his job by vastly underestimating the competitiveness of the race and leaving so many viewers in shock.
So how did so many so-called political experts miss that the district was in play, while only a few of us saw the potential all along?
At the time, Boebert was a largely unknown entity. Given the heavily leaning Republican district, and that then-Democratic candidate Diane Mitsch Busch was not the ideal candidate for the region, chances for a Democratic win felt slim.
But at the end of September 2020, I received a tip regarding Boebert and her husband. News of their sordid past has long since gone public, but at the time, it was not known. After several days confirming the tip with local and state courts, I held the documents in hand.
By early October I began pitching my findings to state news outlets. Much to my surprise, they all refused to publish the reports. The decision, I was told, was that it was too close to Election Day to publish damning personal information about a candidate, fearing it might unduly influence the election or appear partisan.
Each outlet went on to publish the findings after the election was over, but most voters remained blissfully unaware as they submitted their ballots.
However, it became clear that not all voters were obscured from who Boebert really was. In 2020, she appeared to lose votes unnecessarily in her home county — the second sign. Word on the ground was that by and large locals disliked the family, and given her growing national profile it seemed only a matter of time before word would spread.
From here, it was an outlandish two-years of back-to-back antics: Insurrection, election-denying, neighbor disputes and countless other shameful acts.
She became one of the most polarizing figures in the nation, prompting the third sign: Frisch — who had recently eked out a primary win that was probably a fourth sign — anchored his message not on being a Democrat, but on Boebert being a do-nothing embarrassment for Coloradans.
Having grown up in rural, conservative areas much like CD3, Frisch and his messaging immediately felt right for the district. But few knew who Frisch was yet.
Enter the fifth and sixth signs: money and travel. While the district leaned more heavily for Republicans after redistricting, Mitsch Busch had still come within reasonable distance despite having been the wrong candidate.
Perhaps the right candidate could compensate. Frisch had already proved his deep pockets by kickstarting his campaign with serious cash after national Dems shunned him when it came to funding. Then he got on the ground nonstop for months — a critical strategy for rural areas that feel left out.
The seventh sign: A social media-friendly debate clip showing Frisch reminding Boebert over and over again that he was Adam Frisch, not Nancy Pelosi. Again, the message clicked. He didn’t need to roll in the mud with her; he was making a splash simply by neutralizing her “angertainment,” as Frisch calls it.
Number eight: A broad coalition. Critical to putting the district in play, Frisch pulled local leaders together. He brought on board his Democratic challenger, Boebert’s Republican primary challenger and even an independent candidate who was formerly Republican. All endorsed him in solidarity to defeat Boebert. Frisch’s support now spanned well beyond traditional projections, with a set of solid voter lists and prominent surrogates to assist.
Number nine: Tina Peters and January 6th. Boebert has been repeatedly linked with extreme events and people, these included, and people were paying attention in a whole new way. It was clear she would be unpalatable to at least some Republicans. This would either depress Republican turnout and/or increase Frisch’s.
Number 10: Internal polls showed Frisch within striking distance, which led to donations pouring in and outraising Boebert. Although dismissed as too-little, too-late by most experts, it was actually a well-timed, traditional marker of a surge that could reach the ballot box.
So here we are, watching in awe of the incredibly tight race and wondering what might have been if only local and national political bigwigs had taken Frisch seriously at any point before Election Day.
Scientists often say that interpreting data is as much an art as it is a science. Numbers matter, yes. That the district skewed so heavily Republican was absolutely a factor. But the context of those numbers matters, too, and CD3 is ripe with context so long as Boebert is at the helm.
In the end, mistakes by political experts were made. To those people I ask two questions: What did you miss, and who else have you underestimated?
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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