The 2024 elections may feel far off, but in Colorado’s most contested House districts, they’re already looming

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Mesa County is part of the 3rd Congressional District, in which incumbent Republican Lauren Boebert is in a race that’s too close to call against Democrat challenger Adam Frisch. Signs of support for her in and around Grand Junction, including these along Interstate 70 near Horizon Drive, are hard to miss.

The next federal election is more than 20 months away, but behind the scenes, political forces are already gearing up for Colorado to be back in the national spotlight. 

The state’s two marquee races in 2024 will be Republican Lauren Boebert in congressional district 3 and Democrat Yadira Caraveo in congressional district 8, both of whom won by extremely slender margins.

Last year, Caraveo beat Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer by 0.7 percent of the vote in the toss-up seat. Boebert won against her Democratic rival, Adam Frisch, by 0.2 percent of the vote in a race that on paper favored Republicans by +9, according to the state’s independent redistricting commission.

Those close calls have candidates and parties already eyeing both seats, especially given control of the House and Senate will be at stake in 2024. But there are also key differences between the two contests.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
U.S. House candidate Yadira Caraveo speaks during a campaign event at the Alianza Business Center in Thornton. Oct. 4, 2022.

The toss-up seat

In many ways, CO-8, the state’s newest district, is the traditional competitive seat. It was designed to be a toss-up, a slice of the state that only barely went for Republican Donald Trump in 2016 and just barely went for Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper in 2020. Democrats slightly edge out Republicans in voter registration, but the largest block of voters are unaffiliated. It also has the largest proportion of Latino residents in the state.

There was a lot of investment in the 2022 race by both parties on the state and national level in the last cycle, and that is expected to happen again in ‘24.

But unlike last election, this will not be an open seat. Caraveo goes in with the advantage of incumbency. But how strong that advantage will be will rest somewhat on how she performs in the office.

“I think first and foremost, Congresswoman Caraveo has got to carve out a record of accomplishments and really deliver on getting things done for the district,” said Democratic strategist Craig Hughes, “both in terms of constituent service, and in terms of moving things through Congress and addressing a lot of the issues that she ran on.”

But that can also be a double edged sword.

Republican strategist Tyler Sandberg pointed out Caraveo will also go into the ‘24 election with a congressional voting record. “Does she adapt to the district?” he asked, noting that Caraveo won in a year that was good for Democrats overall in Colorado, “Does she adapt and moderate her record or does she vote out-of-step with the district? And I think those more traditional issues are where what happens in CD-8 will swing.”

And the big question mark of the race will be who will be her Republican challenger? Kirkmeyer, her opponent from last time, is continuing to serve in the state Senate and has not said whether she intends to try again for the seat.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The day after Election Day in Glenwood Springs, the front page of the Aspen Times reflects the uncertainty of the race on the the 3rd Congressional District between incumbent Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert and her Democratic challenger Adam Frisch.

The unexpectedly close race

If CO-8 is the traditional swing seat example, it was only Boebert’s close call against Frisch, which caught many in the political world by surprise, that has CO-3 on some "flippable" lists.

The political newsletter Punchbowl reported that, at its winter retreat, the National Republican Campaign Committee distributed lists of the House members from each party who won their seats by the narrowest margins: Caraveo led the Democratic sheet, Boebert topped the Republican one. 

“The fact that Boebert looked so vulnerable and just won by a few hundred votes in the 3rd district means Democrats will be taking that race a lot more seriously and probably devoting a lot more resources,” said Seth Masket, a political science professor and the director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver.

Democratic Adam Frisch has already declared his candidacy in the race and raised over $500,000 so far in his bid to challenge Boebert again, according to his campaign. He’s also not the only Democrat candidate in the race; Gunnison veterinarian Debby Burnett also recently announced she’s running for the seat.

Whoever takes on Boebert will need all the financial help they can get; Sandberg points out Boebert has proven to be a strong fundraiser during her campaigns, raising more than $7 million last cycle.

But it’s likely the national party will also have to spend money to defend her seat, just as Democrats will have to put resources into her challenger if they want to have a chance of pulling off an upset.

And Masket points out a presidential election year could be a better environment for Boebert when it comes to turnout.

“One thing that probably hurt Boebert in ‘22 was the lack of a presidential race and the fact that the top of the ticket for Republicans for the Senate and the governor’s race weren’t particularly great vote draws,” Masket explained. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is also making that argument to donors.

How that dynamic may have played out in the third district is a bit unclear. While Boebert performed better than Heidi Ganahl, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, in her district, she trailed a bit behind the GOP Senate candidate, Joe O’Dea. As Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell pointed out, candidate quality also matters. 

Masket noted Boebert did underperform relative to her district, “in part because, I think, of her reputation, a kind of bombastic reputation, not taken very seriously as a lawmaker.”

“She has some chance to change people’s views on that over the next two years,” he said.

Sandberg added that one area where Boebert doesn’t get enough recognition is her work on the campaign trail, something that was more evident in Colorado in her first run than her reelection, where she also spent time campaigning for other candidates out of state.

One thing most political watchers agree, it will be a closely watched and hard-fought race.

“CD-3 has become nationalized already. I guarantee the majority of Frisch’s donors are probably not from Colorado. So that race takes on national implications in a much bigger way,” said Sandberg, who predicts this race in particular will draw national attention. “CD-3 is much more a giant war of personalities.”

"I VOTED!" Seen at a Cañon City voting center. Oct. 27, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
"I VOTED!" stickers.

The looming unknowns

This far out, political watchers acknowledge many of the factors that could ultimately shape the races are still unknown, like who will be the top of the ticket for both parties, the national mood, how the economy is doing, and what issues will be top of mind for voters in the summer and fall of 2024.

But well before those questions are answered, the parties and their supporters will start signaling what they expect from the race.

The first sign is money, which pours into truly competitive races. Candidates will try to raise as much as they can. As a result, voters can expect to watch a lot of ads and get a lot of fliers if the races are truly in play, not just from the campaigns and parties, but from outside groups.

The second is voter turnout operations. In close races, campaigns will be going after every single vote to try to gain an edge. Caraveo won with less than 50 percent of the votes in CO-8, thanks to a surprisingly strong showing by a Libertarian candidate. As for CO-3, even if it is another Boebert-Frisch matchup, it won’t be the same race as ‘22. Not only will the candidates be trying to keep the voters they won over last time, but they’ll also be trying to flip some, and doing all they can to go after the voters who didn’t turn out in a midterm election year.

The presidential race will be the strongest driver for turnout, overall, but in a given district, having a close — and attention-grabbing — contest further down the ticket can also help boost turnout.

People can also expect to see and hear more from incumbents and their challengers, as they get out in the districts to get to know and talk with voters, touting accomplishments or how they’d be different in Congress.

One thing is also certain, though: there won’t be much, if any, campaign downtime.

“The reelection campaign began the day after the victory party,” said Sandberg, who worked on former Rep. Mike Coffman’s campaigns. Coffman’s final reelection bid was the last really competitive House race before 2022. “It wears on people, on campaign staff, wears on the candidate … because [it’s a] never-ending campaign. You always have to be raising money, you always have to be walking on eggshells with everything you say.”