WASHINGTON — Far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert eked out the narrowest of victories in Republican-friendly territory last fall, defeating Democrat Adam Frisch by only 546 votes and stunning political watchers who hadn’t had the sleepy Colorado race on their radar.
Frisch is now seeking a rematch — and Boebert, a conservative firebrand and culture warrior, hasn’t moderated her policy positions or toned down her rhetoric in her second term on Capitol Hill. Instead, Boebert has been attracting national headlines for taking on President Joe Biden — and her own GOP leadership.
In January, she and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., nearly derailed GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker in a dramatic standoff on the House floor. She accidentally missed the biggest vote of the year — a vote to raise the debt ceiling that she had opposed. Last month, she infuriated GOP leaders and colleagues by trying to force a floor vote on impeaching President Joe Biden over border issues before House investigations into him had wrapped up.
Now, she’s picking a fight over must-pass government funding and military policy bills, demanding they include right-wing policies to win her vote.
“A lot of Republicans have been bewildered by her,” said Dick Wadhams, the former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party from 2007 to 2011. “She has not changed her operating style, either substantively or just generally.”
One House GOP lawmaker, who knows Boebert well, offered this advice: “Her ass needs to get home to go campaign. Cut ribbons, go to bar mitzvahs and take credit for stuff she had absolutely nothing to do with.”
In a part of Colorado that leans conservative but is accustomed to electing pragmatic Republicans and Democrats who tend to focus on local issues like water, natural resources and agriculture, Boebert stands out in the wrong ways to a segment of voters, Wadhams said.
“The perception, whether it’s fair or not, is that Congresswoman Boebert has paid more attention to fighting these battles within the Republican Party than she has paid attention to the district,” the former Colorado GOP leader said. “Now, I’m sure her office would refute that. The trouble is it gets obscured by how she conducts herself. And that’s what she’s battling right now.”
Asked if she planned to change her approach this cycle, Boebert blamed her close call in 2022 on “ballot harvesting” — a GOP term for third-party collection of absentee ballots — rather than what Democrats have called her “MAGA extremism” and political charades.
“We need to get voter turnout. I think that all Republicans need to focus on ballot harvesting where it’s legal in Colorado. And, I mean, that’s something that we have to pay attention to or we’re going to continue to be in the mess that we’re in,” Boebert said in an interview as she descended the Capitol steps. “Democrats chase ballots while we’re chasing voters. And so, I mean, we have to get in the game.”
But Boebert also said she’s focused on “delivering” for Colorado’s sprawling 3rd District that includes rural areas, the cities of Grand Junction and Pueblo, and wealthy ski resorts around Aspen. While she didn’t provide specifics — and her office didn’t respond to a request for comment — some recent press releases have focused on local issues, like her water payments bill getting a hearing, her bill to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list passing out of committee and securing a $5 million grant for a rural health center in a spending package she voted against.
“In the previous Congress, I wasn’t able to do that as much because we were in the minority,” she said. “And we have a wonderful advantage of having this majority where I can actually deliver wins for my district.”
Once the owner of the gun-themed restaurant Shooters Grill, Boebert, 36, has amassed millions of followers on social media, and a substantial platform outside Congress on conservative podcasts and TV shows, and at political conventions.
Democrats, and even some Republicans, say her rising national profile has eclipsed any purported local victories. Boebert has recently grabbed headlines after another conservative hero, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, called her colleague a “little b----” on the House floor — an altercation that led to Greene’s ouster from the far-right Freedom Caucus. While Greene has now aligned herself with McCarthy, Boebert remains a thorn in his side.
“People want the circus to stop,” said Frisch, accusing Boebert of pursuing “all sorts of wild goose chases and causing all sorts of drama” that don’t matter to the district. “She’s one of these people that continues to love to get on Twitter and cable news networks and yell and scream.”
“She’s not focused on the district, she’s focused on herself,” he said. “And we’ll hammer her away on that."
In a phone interview, Frisch said he had needed just “two more weeks with only gas station money” to win the 2022 race. Now, he says, he’ll have the time and resources he needs to close the deal. Frisch raised an eye-popping $2.6 million to Boebert’s roughly $818,000 in the second quarter; he reported having $2.5 million cash on hand to Boebert's $1.4 million, according to campaign reports.
“She doesn’t seem to be taking the job any more seriously than she was before. And again, that’s bad for the district and bad for the country,” Frisch said.
He promised that if he’s elected his focus would be on local matters like water, rural health care, rural education, farming, ranching and natural resources.
But the Democrat still faces an uphill climb in the Republican-friendly district, which former President Donald Trump carried by 8 percentage points in 2020, according to data tracked by Daily Kos.
But Frisch, 55, said the 2022 result shows he appeals to nominal Republicans, including Trump voters, calling himself a “very conservative Democrat running against an extremist.” He wants to join the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus and be one of the five most bipartisan members of Congress. He said he disagrees with his party on energy policy, seeing a larger role for oil and gas alongside clean energy (although he said he’d have voted for the Inflation Reduction Act). And he wouldn’t say whether he’s supporting Biden’s re-election bid in 2024.
“I share the concern that the majority of people have that it’s a little disappointing that we’re left with kind of a redo of 2020,” he said. “I’m laser-focused on what happens in CD-3.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee, however, is eager to paint Frisch, a former Aspen City Council member, as too liberal for the district.
“Adam Frisch is a liberal hack traveling around the district spreading lies like a snake oil salesman. Coloradans see through his act,” said NRCC Regional Press Secretary Delanie Bomar.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a Frisch supporter this cycle and last, acknowledged that Boebert — with millions of social media followers on the right — can raise campaign cash off things like her Biden impeachment push. But he pointed out that Boebert voted no on Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, which is expected to deliver billions in funding for the Centennial State and will be a major focus of Democratic campaigns next year.
“There are those who can monetize extremism, monetize selfish politics. And she might do that to some degree, but that only carries you so far when you’re literally not submitting funding requests for roads and bridges and water infrastructure,” Crow said. “You can only hide that for so long. And clearly last cycle, the jig was up. The jig is even more up now.”
Democrats will put a premium on knocking Boebert out of Congress, Wadhams warned, which could force the national GOP to spend money to step in and rescue her.
“She’s become kind of a national symbol of what they want to beat,” Wadhams said. “It’s just going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight between these two. It’s not gonna be pretty. And it’s gonna go down to the wire."