Voices: Other people were shocked by Lauren Boebert’s close race. I wasn’t

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and her husband Jayson during a rally  (Copyright - 2022 The Denver Post, MediaNews Group.)
Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and her husband Jayson during a rally (Copyright - 2022 The Denver Post, MediaNews Group.)

When outsiders think of Colorado, they usually think of two things: mountains and marijuana. There’s no well-established stereotype of Coloradans – at least not that I know of, and I live here – and it’s very possible that state natives would like it to remain exactly that way forever.

Colorado is home to a diverse population — ranchers and hippies, skiers and stoners, immigrants and coastal transplants. Lauren Boebert’s Third Congressional District includes all of them. And the majority of those voters, despite their differences, tend to share an independent streak and a fierce pride in their state.

Boebert either forgot about that or seriously miscalculated. Because it became apparent to me this year, just from reporting in her constituency, that those factors would cause her huge problems.

It’s no coincidence that the largest bloc of voters in Boebert’s district registered as unaffiliated, refusing to align with either party. One business owner in Grand Junction last week, a native Coloradan, told me that his contemporaries like to think that they’re independently minded – and the still-undetermined election results proved that they’ve put their money where their mouth is (in this case, literally, with Boebert’s Democratic challenger at times outpacing her in campaign fundraising).

It’s clear that quite a few Colorado Republicans were “thinking for themselves”, unwilling to toe the party line to vote for her. Boebert may rail against “sheeple,” but it likely would have worked in her favor if there were more of them in her constituency.

Instead, many turned against Boebert for the same reasons she alienated unaffiliated voters. Her image flies in the face of the very values she purports to represent. Her constituents may love gun rights and socially conservative platforms, but there’s not much time for brash, inflammatory and self-serving rhetoric out here. Name one A-list celebrity from Colorado. It’s hard, right? Celebrity and fame are not exactly prized in this part of the world. Boebert’s apparent quest for them didn’t do her any favors.

There’s a vibe of hardy frontier self-reliance mixed with almost midwestern niceness in this district, and picking fights left, right and center – with the ostensible goal of raising one’s own profile – does not remotely fit in with that. Multiple people I interviewed brought up the State of the Union incident, when Boebert heckled President Biden, as an example of completely uncalled-for behaviour.

Not only did Coloradans dislike Boebert’s bombastic ranting, they were embarrassed by it. They were concerned about what outsiders might think of the state when they witnessed the Congresswoman’s antics. Every time I visited her constituency this year, at least one person per day would complain to me that Boebert was making the region a “laughingstock” – in those exact words. To those voters likely to walk around clad in attire decorated with the Colorado flag — a popular choice round here — that was completely unacceptable.

Boebert’s opponent, Adam Frisch, zeroed in on this. And at the same time as criticizing her behaviour and political stances, he took aim at her lack of visibility in the district. She may be everywhere on Twitter, but she’s done less than expected for the people she wanted — and expected — to vote for her. Frisch hammered away at the Congresswoman’s legislative record (she’s basically passed nothing, though that’s not necessarily unusual for a Congress freshman) and, particularly, the feeling that she put her own ambitions before the good of Colorado. In the days immediately leading up to Election Day, Frisch went on a grueling, 100-stop tour throughout the sprawling district to emphasize his own physical presence and local commitment.

Boebert’s far-right Christian views never sat well with a lot of voters. Some non-religious constituents worried she didn’t really believe in a separation of church and state. And some devout Christians were horrified by things she, as a purported Christian, said and did. “Nothing she represents represents what I believe a Christian should be,” one voter told me from Rifle, the town where Boebert once ran the now-defunct gun-themed restaurant Shooters Grill.

And let’s remove from the equation the native Coloradan voters. The state, like so many more rural, picturesque parts of America, has seen an influx of residents in recent years thanks to remote work – and, in Colorado’s case, legal weed. In one day of reporting alone, I spoke to registered voters who had originally hailed from Maine, New York and even the Netherlands. (I’m not one of Boebert’s constituents, but I, too, am a transplant.) The Congresswoman’s brand is completely alien and off-putting to many of these new residents, including the ones who don’t necessarily skew liberal. I spoke to one woman who’d previously lived in California and actually voted for Boebert the first time around – only to regret it when she saw just how the MAGA acolyte comported herself.

Here’s another aside: No one I spoke with who knew Boebert personally actually liked her, and they said that was based on her personality, long before she entered politics.

After all of that, I watched as the nation reacted with shock when Frisch nipped at Boebert’s heels in a surprisingly close (and currently ongoing) race. I was a little surprised; I’d expected Frisch to do much better than anticipated, but not by such numbers. I wasn’t, however, as shocked as everyone else. I’d been on the ground for a while, and I knew what people really thought.

Whatever happens, it’s apparent that Boebert needs to rethink her brand. Whether she wins or loses now, this wafer-thin election means that the proud Coloradans she represents aren’t buying it.