Colorado, and the rest of the nation, watched in amazement Tuesday night as Rep. Lauren Boebert’s anticipated 15-point victory slipped to where it stands now, with her Democratic opponent, Adam Frisch, up by about 62 votes. Thousands of ballots still need to be counted, so it’s still anyone’s race, but many Coloradans are stunned.
What on Earth – specifically the portion of Earth that is western and southern Colorado – is going on? How could a political newcomer and Democrat in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, a district anticipated to be more Republican-leaning after a redistricting, give a well-known candidate like Boebert a run for her money?
Having grown up in Grand Junction, followed this district closely for years, and looked at the early election night data, I have some thoughts.
First, Frisch ran an impressive campaign. He and his team – written off by many as impossible underdogs – clearly put in the time and effort to turn out Democratic voters in rural Colorado. This is no easy task where voters are scattered across a huge district in small towns separated by high mountain passes; the barriers are enormous.
We don’t know how Frisch did it, but data from The New York Times shows that Democrats were fired up across southern Colorado counties, significantly outperforming (by 7 points or more) voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election in Otero, Huerfano, Costilla, Archuleta, La Plata, San Juan, Montrose, Ouray, and Gunnison. And making smaller gains in another five rural counties.
Even in Republican strongholds like Moffat County in the far northwest corner of Colorado, Democrats outperformed 2020 turnout by 4.1 points.
And then, in Mesa County, the population center of the district, there was a significant turnout of unaffiliated voters – 30,613 ballots returned by Nov. 8 – compared to Republican voters’ 31,169 ballots.
Lastly, so far, 2,865 voters decided neither candidate deserved their support. These are what I like to characterize as protest blank votes.
That is the math of how Frisch turned a solidly red seat into a competitive district.
However, something else is going on in these communities that can’t be measured by this data.
Frisch referred to it on the campaign trail as people being exhausted by “angertainment.”
What does a community do when an inept clerk and recorder (who, in a previous election, found uncounted ballots sitting in an unopened ballot box and then refused to count them) is accused of stealing election data and giving it to the CEO of a pillow company? What does a community do when that clerk is caught on video trying to kick a police officer exercising a warrant for her tablet because she had recorded a judicial hearing against the judge’s orders?
Boebert wasn’t directly involved in those scandals, but she runs in the same far-right circle that is still actively trying to get Donald Trump back into office despite his inexcusable behavior since losing the 2020 election. In many ways, Boebert is a younger, more charismatic version of the indicted Mesa County Clerk, Tina Peters.
I could be wrong. It’s possible western and southern Colorado are as solidly in Trump’s corner as they were in 2016 and 2020, and Boebert’s inability to get her supporters to the polls has nothing to do with disgust over misbehaving Trump supporters eroding our democratic foundation with their antics.
But when I think of conservative Republicans in my hometown, I remember the kind, thoughtful Americans who just want low taxes, filled potholes, and to be left alone.
Boebert’s approach to politics is many things, but it is certainly not that.
Megan Schrader is the editor of The Denver Post’s opinion pages. She grew up in Grand Junction and attended the University of Missouri journalism school before working at the Gainesville Sun in Florida, the Oklahoman and the Colorado Springs Gazette. Contact her: [email protected].
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