The 2024 election may be 14 months away, but things are already heating up in Lauren Boebert’s congressional district
This story was originally published by the Colorado Sun at 4:20 AM on September 5, 2023
More than a year ahead of the 2024 election, the battle in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District is already heating up.
Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert faces multiple GOP and Democratic challengers. A liberal dark-money group is spending gobs of money to weaken the congresswoman’s image. And national organizations are preparing to invest heavily in the race.
While the 3rd District — which spans across the Western Slope into Pueblo and southeastern Colorado — has been written off in recent years as reliably Republican, Boebert’s vulnerability in the GOP-leaning district was made clear by her narrow, 546-vote win in 2022 over Democrat Adam Frisch, a former Aspen city councilman.
The district is one of just 13 Republican seats across the country rated as a toss-up by Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election prognosticator, and a recent poll indicated Frisch, who is running again, and Boebert are tied in a hypothetical rematch.
Here’s a guide to how the 2024 contest in the 3rd District is shaping up:
Boebert and Frisch face primary challengers
While much of the focus has been on the potential Boebert-Frisch rematch, both face primary challengers and may not ultimately be their party’s nominees.
In July, Grand Junction Mayor Anna Stout, a Democrat, announced a bid to unseat Boebert. She’s been endorsed by some high-profile Democrats, including state Sen. Dylan Roberts, of Avon, state Rep. Meghan Lukens, of Steamboat Springs, and former U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey.
Adam Withrow, a homeschooling dad in Pueblo, filed to run in the district as a Democrat in July. His voter registration was previously unaffiliated and Libertarian.
Two other Democrats — Debby Burnett, a Gunnison veterinarian, and David Karpas, of Edwards — filed to run in the district next year but have since abandoned their 2024 bids.
On the Republican side, Jeff Hurd, an attorney and former president of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, announced a primary challenge to Boebert in early August. Hurd is backed by former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, a Republican, and former Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster.
Republican Russ Andrews, a Carbondale financial adviser, also filed to challenge Boebert, loaning more than $10,000 to his campaign earlier this year.
Candidates are raising millions
Frisch and Boebert have already raised millions of dollarsfor their 2024 races.
Frisch was the leader through the first six months of the year, raising nearly $4.4 million during that span compared with Boebert, who raised about $1.6 million.
Frisch’s big haul so far ranked fourth on the Federal Election Commission’s list of top fundraisers for U.S. House contests, second among Democrats only to House Minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Boebert placed 30th overall among 2024 fundraisers for House contests and 21st among Republicans.
Frisch ranked seventh in spending among U.S. House candidates and third among Democrats. Boebert ranks 21st overall and 11th among Republicans.
Of the $2.3 million spent by Frisch in the first half of the year, 63% went to buying email lists, sending out mailers and purchasing digital ads. About 4% of his campaign’s spending went to fundraising consulting.
Of the $912,000 Boebert spent from January through June, 46% went to mail campaigns or digital advertising. Nearly 18% of her campaign’s spending went to fundraising consulting.
In last year’s matchup, Boebert spent $7.4 million and Frisch spent $6.3 million.
Other candidates in the race won’t have to disclose their fundraising and spending numbers until Oct. 15.
Political groups are spending early money in the district
Rocky Mountain Values, a liberal political nonprofit created in fall 2019 to take on then-U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, is taking aim at Boebert ahead of the 2024 election.
The nonprofit is what The Colorado Sun refers to as a dark-money group because it doesn’t report its donors.
Rocky Mountain Values has pledged to spend $2 million on advertising and events aimed at undermining Boebert’s image. So far, that’s included TV advertising and paying to fly a plane over the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo towing banner criticizing Boebert.
It’s unusually early for TV advertising in a U.S. House contest, according to Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project that tracks such advertising. Such early advertising is more common in presidential or U.S. Senate contests.
“When the chamber itself is more competitive, there’s more at stake and people and outside groups are going to be looking at every race,” Franklin Fowler said. “Despite that, it does feel early to me.”
The spending is focused on Boebert’s congressional record, according to Justin Lamorte, executive director of Rocky Mountain Values.
Boebert used taxpayer money to air radio and digital ads in recent months defending her record against Rocky Mountain Values’ criticism, as first reported by 9News. The ads were approved by the House Communications Standards Commission.
It’s unclear how much was spent on the ads. Because they ran in July, the spending won’t be reported until October or November. House members may spend a portion of their budget to communicate with constituents, most often through mailings touting their work. Boebert’s office spent more than $10,000 on such communication in the first six months of the year.
Boebert is also getting 2024 campaign help from political groups.
The House Freedom Fund, a federal political action committee, spent nearly $118,000 on direct mail, email marketing and donation processing for Boebert through early August. That compares with about $43,000 spent by the PAC to help Boebert at the same point in 2021.
The Colorado Democratic Party launches an initiative targeting Boebert
It isn’t just money being spent by political groups in the 3rd District.
The Colorado Democratic Party launched an initiative in early June to reach out to Democratic voters in the 3rd District who didn’t cast ballots in the 2022 election. Party volunteers are asking those people about the issues that concern them most, but also encouraging them to participate in local elections this fall.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Shad Murib said the initiative is part of an effort to constantly stay in touch with voters instead of reaching out just before an election urging them to return their ballots.
“Moving to a year-round organizing operation puts us in a situation where we are able to work on every race across the state,” Murib said. “We have our targets, of course. We’re going to give more attention to certain races that feel like battlegrounds. But I think that every race deserves this type of attention. By focusing locally, we know that if someone votes for a Democrat for county commissioner, they’re far more likely to vote for their Democratic candidate for Congress and to vote for (President) Joe Biden.”
The Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national, conservative political nonprofit, is also reaching out to voters — mostly to unaffiliated ones. The dark-money organization has conducted year-round outreach in the state for more than a decade, with a focus on economic issues. It recently posted photos of volunteers phone-banking.
“Colorado’s unaffiliated swing voter audience … are the true election deciders, and they’re also the ones who have a huge impact on ballot initiatives,” said Jesse Mallory, Colorado director for AFP.
Mallory said his group is active in the 3rd District, but not to the extent it is on the Front Range. AFP’s primary focus is on the 8th Congressional District, where there will also be a hotly contested race next year.
The Colorado GOP is relying on a national Republican effort, called Bank Your Vote, to get in touch with voters, Weston Imer, the party’s project manager, said in a text message. Bank Your Vote is a website encouraging Republicans to pledge to vote early or by mail in 2024. The GOP effort appears much more passive than the initiatives underway by the Colorado Democratic Party and AFP.
A recent poll commissioned by Frisch’s campaign
Keating Research, a Democratic pollster in Colorado, was one of the only groups to predict that the 2022 election in the 3rd District would be close.
A new poll from Keating, commissioned by Frisch’s campaign, conducted from Aug. 8-15 among 801 likely November 2024 voters in the 3rd District that found Frisch would beat Boebert 50%-48% in a hypothetical rematch next year. But the survey had a 3.5 percentage-point margin of error, which means Frisch could be either beating Boebert by 5.5 percentage points or losing to her by 1.5 percentage points — or anywhere in between.
If a race’s outcome is polled within the margin of error, it’s considered a statistical tie, so it’s fair to say the poll showed that Frisch and Boebert remain neck and neck.
The poll only asked participants to weigh in on a potential Frisch-Boebert rematch. Their primary challengers were not included in the questions.
“This is a snapshot in time,” said Chris Keating, president of Keating Research. “A lot of things can happen in 14 months.”
One positive takeaway for Democrats: The survey marked the first time more than 50% of those polled in the district said they had an unfavorable view of Boebert — at 53% unfavorable compared with 42% favorable, Keating Research vice president Jake Martin said.
“She’s already starting down minus-11 (percentage points) on her favorability ratings — just a tough place to be,” Martin said.