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U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert addresses a dwindling crowd of supporters at her watch party on election night in Grand Junction (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert won reelection Friday in Colorado’s GOP-leaning 3rd Congressional District,  barely overcoming voters’ forceful rebuke of her highly controversial tenure in Washington over the past two years to help her party expand its slim majority in the U.S. House.

Boebert was leading Democrat Adam Frisch, a former Aspen city councilman, by 551 votes on Friday morning when Frisch conceded in a video news conference with reporters. The contest will have one of the closest margins of any congressional race in the U.S. this year, if not the closest.

Frisch said in a call with reporters that he wasn’t asking for the mandatory recount paid for by the state that he’s entitled to under Colorado law, but that he supports the recount “to ensure continued faith and the security of our elections.”

If it does occur — Frisch would have to withdraw his candidacy to waive his right to the recount, which must be completed by Dec. 13 — it’s highly unlikely to make a significant dent in the margin between the two candidates.

“The likelihood of this recount changing more than a handful of votes is very small,” he said. “Very, very small. It would be disingenuous and unethical for us, or any other group, to continue to raise false hope.”

Frisch said he called Boebert, who lives in Garfield County, on Friday morning before the briefing with reporters to concede. Boebert declared victory in the race on Thursday night when it was clear that she would win unless the recount somehow reversed the outcome.

“With this victory and with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, we can focus on the issues that actually matter most, including getting inflation under control, increasing our domestic energy supply, securing the southern border and being a strong check on the White House,” Boebert said in a video posted to Twitter.

The fact that the race between Boebert, a bombastic congresswoman with a national following of both ardent supporters and fierce detractors, and Frisch, a relative newcomer on the big political stage, was so close shocked the Colorado political world given the 3rd District’s heavy Republican lean. 

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Few, if any, political observers believed Frisch, who ran as a moderate and promised to be a more measured voice in Washington, had a chance. Neither Democratic nor Republican national groups, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee, really invested in the race in a clear sign they thought the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

“It’s never fun to have phone calls returned nine months later, which obviously happened,” Frisch told The Colorado Sun on Friday afternoon. “The amount of phone calls that came in on Wednesday morning (after Election Day) … people in DC are very, very aware of how well of a race we ran, the team we had, and they are very, very aware they did not do anything for us. If we were to run again, I’m pretty darn certain and pretty darn confident that would change dramatically.” 

“It’s so much closer than anyone anticipated,” said state Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democratic who briefly ran to unseat Boebert this year but ended her candidacy when she was drawn out of the 3rd District during last year’s redistricting process. 

The 3rd District, which spans the Western Slope into Pueblo and southeast Colorado, was made more favorable to Republicans when its boundaries were redrawn last year as part of Colorado’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process. 

Voters in the district backed Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s unsuccessful reelection bid by 11 percentage points in 2020. In 2018, a year that was devastating for Colorado Republicans, voters in the district backed Republican Walker Stapleton’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid by 6 percentage points. And former President Donald Trump won the district by 14 percentage points in 2016 even as he lost statewide.

Republicans also have a voter registration advantage in the 3rd District, which has not sent a Democrat to Congress since 2008. Forty-four percent of active registered voters in the district are unaffiliated, while 31% are Republicans and 24% are Democrats. 

Boebert even crushed a primary challenge this year from state Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, beating him by a whopping 32 percentage points in a further sign of her apparent dominance. Boebert raised and spent about $7 million on her reelection bid, compared with the roughly $5 million raised and spent by Frisch, including $715,000 he loaned to his campaign.

A close-up of Adam Frisch while he campaign's for the 3rd Congressional District.
Democratic candidate for the Third Congressional District for Colorado Adam Frisch during an appearance on the campus of the University of Colorado-Pueblo Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Pueblo, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

But the outcome of the 3rd District race made it clear: Voters in the district may be reliably conservative, but they have their limits. And Boebert — whose two years in Washington have been marked by controversy — nearly exceeded them.

In the days after taking office in January 2021, Boebert backed an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. On Jan. 6, 2021, before rioters descended upon the U.S. Capitol, she tweeted that “Today is 1776.” She also was criticized by her colleagues for tweeting about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s whereabouts during the riot.

She clashed with Democrats when she insisted it was her right to carry a firearm in the U.S. Capitol complex and after she made an offensive joke about Minnesota Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, comparing the Muslim lawmaker to a terrorist. She interrupted President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address this year by shouting as he spoke about the death of his son.

More recently, Boebert has advocated for the end of the separation of church and state and called women the “lesser” or “weaker” vessel.

Boebert’s campaign spending has been highly scrutinized, as has her husband’s high pay as a consultant for the oil and gas industry, which she fiercely supports. As a national GOP figure, she has tied herself to other controversial GOP colleagues like former President Trump and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, and she has advocated for impeaching President Joe Biden.

In addition to her self-imposed problems, Boebert also faced political headwinds in Colorado this year. There was lower turnout in the 3rd District in 2022 than in 2018 and 2020, as well as a groundswell of support this year for Democratic candidates across Colorado. 

Boebert’s margin of victory this year in the GOP stronghold of Mesa County was smaller than it was in 2020. She lost in Pueblo and Garfield counties in 2022 by much larger numbers than she did two years ago.

On election night, the GOP genuinely feared Boebert was likely to be swept out of office. But as votes were counted in the days after Election Day she picked up a lead over Frisch and maintained it as military and overseas ballots were counted and Democrats and Republicans scrambled to help voters whose ballots were initially rejected because of signature discrepancies fix those issues. 

Frisch, who was endorsed by Coram, held out hope that he would pull out a surprise victory, even traveling to Washington, D.C., to attend an orientation for new members of Congress. “We’re still in the fight,” he told The Colorado Sun late last week.

By Friday morning, however, Frisch said it was clear he couldn’t win. “The voters have spoken,” he said.

In his concession remarks, Frisch said the Democratic Party had eroded the trust of rural and working class Americans. “This election may be decided, but my advocacy for western and southern Colorado, rural communities across the country, and the people of our great nation will never end,” Frisch said.

Frisch filed Thursday with the Federal Elections Commission to run in the 3rd District again in 2024.

Of the 27 counties in the 3rd District, only Otero County had yet to finalize its 2022 election results as of Friday morning. The county reported its final results at about 12:30 p.m., at which point Boebert’s lead grew to 554 votes.

Under Colorado law, a mandatory recount occurs when the number of votes separating the leading two candidates is less than 0.5% of the number of votes cast for the leading candidate. Unless there is some surprise, the 3rd District race with fall under that threshold.

“We’re very, very excited and proud we’ve created some national attention,” Frisch told The Sun. “Not so much about us, but that people should keep hope alive if they mathematically look at some possibilities of defeating some brand-name people who aren’t focused on the task at hand, which is looking after your constituents and not yourself, there might be some more signals of hope across the country. I assume whatever we do, it’s not going to take people nine months to call us back.”

Colorado Sun editor David Krause contributed to this report.

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Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...