The Race Is On: Colorado’s 3rd District Candidates Stump From Pickup Trucks And Through Computer Screens

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
GOP businesswoman Lauren Boebert spoke to a monthly meeting of Garfield County Republicans Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at Order Up in Rifle as she campaigned for Congress in Colorado’s 3rd District.

Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District race is gaining a lot of attention. In large part, that's because of Republican Lauren Boebert. The pistol-packing, Rifle restaurant owner defeated incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton in a surprise upset in the June primary.

Now she faces Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush in November.

To get her message out, Boebert has hit the campaign trail. On Sunday she stumped in front of Gunnison Country Republicans in the tiny Gunnison County community of Almont, where many attendees wore Trump 2020 face masks. She then hit the road for an Alamosa GOP meet and greet that included Republicans from six nearby counties, and where masks were scarce.

While she faced friendly crowds at both events, Boebert said she believes her own story will appeal to unaffiliated voters.

“I come from government dependency, with no incentive to ever get out. I broke out of that,” she said after the Alamosa event. “Now I’m bringing that same message to everyone else, that you have inherent value and that you can put your hand to something and create prosperity, create success.”

Growing up, Boebert said her mother used government food and housing assistance to sustain the family.

“I’m grateful for that to some extent, but it limited us,” she told the crowd in Almont. “They wanted to control us and keep us stuck in a cycle of poverty.”

Instead, she told the crowd she found freedom and independence when she got her first job at a McDonald’s in Rifle.

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Lauren Boebert campaigning in the 3rd Congressional District.

“I still remember bringing mom home that first paycheck. There was pride with that check. There was empowerment. Personal responsibility began to develop,” she recalled. “That paycheck showed me I can do a better job taking care of myself than government ever could.”

The rest of Boebert’s stump speech covers issues she is well known for in the state: her support of the Second Amendment, her challenge to local coronavirus restrictions, and her criticism of Democrats and democratic policies like the Green New Deal. One of her biggest applause lines is when she tells the crowd she will “tell Planned Parenthood to go fund themselves.”

She also touched on some policy issues that are important to this region, such as water and energy.

“I’m for all-of-the-above energy, but the markets decide… not the government,” she told the Alamosa crowd while standing on the back of a pickup truck.

What Boebert stressed the most is the idea that she’d be a voice for Colorado in Washington, something she thinks the district has been lacking with Tipton as its representative.

On the other side of the vast 3rd Congressional District, Democratic candidate Diane Mitsch Bush has been staring at computer screens, not crowds, as she works the virtual campaign trail for the time being. Mitsch Bush said that’s the responsible thing to do in the midst of a pandemic.

Around 150 people joined her for a virtual watch party for this year's online Democratic National Convention.

The Steamboat Springs Democrat said these virtual meetings still let her do the important part of the job: Listening to what voters have to say.

“Looking them in the eye and coming up together with solutions to the problems people face, ‘cause that’s what a candidate does, and that’s especially what a representative does. It’s about listening and there are many different ways to listen,” she said.

When she does speak, it’s about her policy proposals, past legislative successes and her ability to work across the aisle.

“That was my M.O. — I didn’t pass a bill without bringing together stakeholders and bringing in people,” she explained.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush at her home in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. She’s running for Congress in there state’s 3rd Congressional District against Republican Lauren Boebert.

This is Mitsch Bush’s second try at the seat. She ran against Tipton in 2018 and came closer than any other Democrat had in years. She said she learned a lot from that run, lessons that will help her this time around.

Mitsch Bush is not a political novice. The retired sociology professor has lived on the Western Slope for over 40 years and served as a Routt County Commissioner. Following that, she represented the area in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2013 until 2017, when she stepped down in 2018 to run, unsuccessfully, against Tipton.

Like Boebert, part of Mitsch Bush’s stump speech also goes back to her childhood where she raised by a single mother. She said they were financially insecure until her mother joined the union and had a good-paying job with benefits. She thinks her working-class background helps her understand the struggles that working-class families currently face.

While Boebert talks about the Constitution and freedom as her motivation for running, Mitsch Bush lists her guiding principles are compassion and pragmatism.

“I want to roll up my sleeves and get to work to move us forward to our vision of hope and opportunity,” Mitsch Bush said.

Like any campaign, each candidate has critical words for her opponent, too. And those attacks can sound very similar: they both view the other as too extreme for the district.

That’s something voters will get the final say on.

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
John Hickenlooper campaigns in Gunnison from a pickup truck, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. The former governor is challenging Sen. Cory Gardner for his seat.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that in a district of this size, old-fashioned retail politics remain important, even in the era of COVID-19.

In a nod to that, the Democratic candidate for Senate, John Hickenlooper, also campaigned in person in Gunnison on Saturday. It was part of a Western Slope swing that included stops in Steamboat Springs and Grand Junction. He talked with conservationists about public lands and then spoke to supporters, also standing on the back of a pickup truck, outside his campaign office. Hickenlooper said he’d be a strong voice for the Western Slope.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has also been on the trail, campaigning as a voice for rural Colorado and a supporter of public lands through the Great American Outdoors Act.

Boebert gave a plug to incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner at her events. She argued it’s important to keep the Senate in GOP-control.

“A vote against Cory Gardner is a vote against President Trump,” she warned.