Thousands of voters have recently left the Democratic Party in Western Colorado — some as part of a grassroots effort to defeat Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert in her upcoming primary election.
Among them is Steven Hallenborg of Montrose.
“Well, I'm a lifelong Democrat, and now I'm unaffiliated,” he said. Because he changed his affiliation, he now can vote against Boebert in the June 28 Republican primary.
For the last few years, Colorado’s “open primary” system has allowed unaffiliated voters to participate in either party’s primary elections. That means voters like Hallenborg can weigh in on Boebert’s primary run — without actually joining the Republican Party.
“It's very unfortunate what's going on in this state. So, I mean, she has to go,” Hallenborg said in an interview at a Democratic event. Voters who oppose Boebert have one other option, Republican state Sen. Don Coram, in the June 28 primary.
In total, the Democratic Party’s voter rolls in the district shrunk by about 3,700 people, or about 2.7%, from February through May, according to an analysis by CPR News. At the same time, the district saw unusual growth in its unaffiliated voter population. One political scientist, Seth Masket, described the findings as “stunning.”
It’s impossible to say how many of those switchers are hoping to influence the Boebert-Coram primary. Some may be displeased with the Democrats, or may have simply moved away. But reporters have heard from numerous liberal and unaffiliated voters in the district who want to dump Boebert.
And, statistically, something unusual is happening. No other Colorado district has seen a comparable change over the last few months; neither party has lost more than a few hundred voters in other areas in that time.
Any efforts to get Democrats to make the switch have effectively run their course — Monday, June 6 was the last day members of a party could change or drop their affiliation in order to participate in another party’s primary.
The party-switchers are just a small portion of the overall electorate. Even if all 3,600 former Democrats planned to vote for Coram, they would make up less than 1 percent of registered voters. For comparison, Boebert won her first primary by nearly 10,000 votes in 2020.
But the former Democrats aren't the only factor. They’ll be joining a population of nearly a quarter-million unaffiliated voters in the district, all of whom are free to vote in either the Democratic or Republican Primary.
The national attention on Boebert’s race could help to draw some of those hundreds of thousands of votes into the contest — and the outcome may well depend on whom they support.
“For unaffiliated voters who really are neutral between the parties, and there are some of those, they may simply decide the Republican Party is the more interesting contest right now,” said Masket, professor of political science and the director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. ”For primaries — that is something that could have an effect.”
Boebert has grabbed nationwide attention over the last two years for carrying guns, making viral Twitter posts and heckling President Joe Biden over the deaths of service members in Afghanistan during the State of the Union.
That high profile has helped bring in donations and won the loyalty of many in the district’s Republican base. But Coram is counting on a folksy centrist message to win over those unaffiliated voters.
“They are unaffiliated because they are sick and tired of the antics of the far right, and the far left,” he said in an interview. His campaign stressed that he is focused on winning over undecided voters, not convincing Democrats to meddle in the primary.
In some ways, Coram is an ideal candidate, given his political experience and party connections, Masket said. But he added the candidate hasn’t stacked up the kinds of money and endorsements that often push challengers to victory.
Coram had raised only $89,000 by the end of March, compared to $4.4 million for Boebert. Boebert has been on the offense against Coram since early in the campaign, launching a series of attack ads and a website criticizing his record in the statehouse.
In an earlier statement from her campaign, Boebert said these unaffiliated voters shouldn’t have a say in the primary: “Members of various political parties should choose their nominees in a closed primary system."
The winner of the Republican primary will face the winner of the Democratic primary. Candidates Sol Sandoval, Adam Frisch and Alex Walker are running for the Democratic nomination.
CPR reporters Caitlyn Kim and Kevin J. Beaty and intern Will Corneilus contributed reporting for this article.
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