Boebert’s decision to swap districts sparks surprise in some, disappointment in others

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert at the 2022 Western Conservative Summit on Friday, June 3, 2022.

GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert’s decision to run for another congressional seat in Colorado rather than the one she currently occupies in the 3rd congressional district has upended two races and left a lot of people scratching their heads.

Boebert, who faced a tough reelection fight for her current seat, announced Wednesday she’s opting to run in the 4th congressional district, on the other side of the state, instead.

The fourth is Colorado's safest Republican district, with a 26-point advantage for the party, compared to a 9-point Republican lean in her current district.

For Boebert supporters, like Allen Maez of Cortez, the move was disappointing but understandable. The former head of the Montezuma County Republicans said he got a call from her explaining her decision. “She let me know that CD4 is a vital seat and she wants to keep that seat.”

“I did tell her there are folks that are going to be disappointed in her decision, but it was hers,” Maez said. “You know the other party is definitely ganging up on her. (At) every turn they were having something negative to say about her.”

Maez is confident that had Boebert stayed in the race for the 3rd Congressional District, she would have won the Republican primary, but he was less bullish about the general election.

Many in Colorado politics view Boebert’s decision in that light: as a way to avoid a scenario where she would lose her current seat.

Dick Wadhams, a political consultant and former head of the Colorado GOP, said he was surprised but not shocked.

“It really drives home how imperiled she believes she was in the 3rd district and how obsessed she is in remaining in public office,” Wadhams said.

Normally, a party would want to avoid a wide-open race in a potentially flippable seat. But next year was shaping up to be a rematch of Boebert’s 2022 contest, in which she came within 550 votes of losing to Democratic challenger Adam Frisch. Many in the GOP worried Frisch would be able to overcome that margin this time around.

“This is very good news for Republicans in the 3rd district because she was destined to probably lose the general election if she got nominated. And that puts Republicans in a much stronger position to hold on to the third district,” said Wadhams.

In addition to concerns about the general election, Boebert was also facing a serious primary challenger: Grand Junction attorney Jeff Hurd.

Mesa County Commissioner Bobbie Daniel, who endorsed Hurd, said she was not really surprised by Boebert’s decision to not run for reelection in her current seat, noting that “weeks ago, [Boebert] told supporters in a fundraising email that if fundraising continued on this trajectory, it wouldn’t be sustainable for retaining CD3.”

Daniel said Hurd has “substantial fundraising” success and that now, with the incumbent out, “Republicans will have a greater chance of retaining this conservative seat.”

Another Hurd supporter, Delta County Commissioner Don Suppes, said Boebert’s decision to drop out of the race alleviates some of his concerns about next November.

“I knew Boebert was not going to win the general election, that was pretty clear,” he said. “We really need to keep this race away from the Democrats, just to make sure we can protect all of our land, all of our water.”

Suppes also said he wasn’t surprised that she was leaving the race. But what did catch him and others off guard was her decision to run in another district in Colorado.

GOP political consultant Josh Penry described Boebert’s move to run in the open seat in the 4th congressional district, rather than defend her seat in the 3rd, as bizarre and off-brand.

“For a member of Congress who has positioned herself as this heroic champion, who fights Democrats and liberals and progressives at all costs, it was a little bit strange to see her cut and run from a tough fight with a Democrat that could very well decide control of the U.S. House of Representatives in favor of a race that is obviously safely Republican,” he said.

“You see this a lot with politicians, they’ll do anything to cling to power. And in this case, she really has.”

Boebert’s decision brings new challenges, and risks

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 here on Hwy. 50 south of the city, are hard to miss.

The change in districts means that for the next year Boebert will have to split her time, not just between Washington D.C. and the region she currently represents, but also the one she’ll be campaigning to win.

The third and fourth districts are Colorado’s largest, encompassing more than 80,000 square miles between them. Boebert’s home in Garfield County is more than 200 miles away from the fourth district’s western edge.

But Boebert supporter Maez is confident she’ll be able to do all of it. “She’s known all over the state. I mean, she’s a national figure so people know who she is and it won't take a lot. We have good people in CD4 that will help her along.”

But Delta County Commissioner Suppes does have some worries about having a congressperson who will be campaigning on the other side of the state. “It bothers me that she’s not going to be truly our representative here. That’s definitely a challenge. There’s a lot of federal issues that we as commissioners have to deal with.”

Seth Masket, professor of political science and director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, said a politician hopping from district to district is unusual, but not unheard of.

“It’s perfectly legal, but it’s tricky politically because a politician spends some time building up alliances and relationships in the district that they’re in, and you’re basically starting all over again in a new district,” he said.

He also thinks Boebert’s calculation reflects the overall nationalization of politics. It would have been harder to make this leap years ago when knowledge of the local district was considered much more important.

“There are issues that people care about in Western Colorado that would be different from what people in Eastern Colorado care about, but you’ll see less and less of it showing up in local news cycles,” Masket said. “The people who are the most passionate, who show up at town hall meetings or who volunteer for campaigns, they’re just far more motivated now by what’s going on in the national news media.”

A source familiar with Republican politics in the 4th district said it was a smart political move on Boebert’s part, one that she can spin as a personal sacrifice for the good of the party. Given the tough race ahead, dropping out shows she can be a team player who puts the need to keep that seat in Republican hands first.

Still, there will be some “heartburn” in the district when it comes to some of Boebert’s inflammatory comments and actions. “Republicans in Colorado want a strong conservative fighter that doesn’t damage the brand,” said the source, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly.

Penry, however, said Boebert’s move comes across as less about helping Republicans in the 3rd and more about self-preservation. “She wants to stay in Congress. She wants to continue to collect the paycheck…You don’t quit a tough race and go run in an easy race and, with a straight face, make the argument that it’s some act of political selflessness.”

Still, he said Boebert starts her new race with some serious advantages: name recognition and lots of campaign cash. He also said her first race in 2020 showed her ability to really hit the campaign trail, something she’ll have to do a lot more of in her new district to “make the case” for her election.

Boebert joins an already crowded primary field in the 4th district. While the other candidates might not have her campaign money, ties to national political figures or name recognition, many have local roots, power bases and allies.

Penry’s advice for Boebert: get a realtor now and start looking for a place in the district.

While the label “carpetbagger” might not hurt her with voters in suburban areas like Douglas Country, “I do think the Eastern Plains and Weld county, there is more of a sense of place, of community,” where the label could hurt her.

“Everybody knows what she's done and she’ll have to explain it. And it’ll be up to some of these other candidates…to make the case against her,” Penry said.

Regardless of how it came about, Masket said the contest will be an interesting test of how nationalized politics has gotten. What happens to a candidate who jumps into a race with national fame and money versus other opponents with significant local ties.

While some of the Republican candidates may bow out, others are likely to dig in and attack her for jumping districts.

“We’ll see just how effective an argument that is and just how much that really bothers voters,” Masket said. “We’re going to get a real test of just how much this national versus local stuff matters….and it’s not going to be a cakewalk for [Boebert].”