In a decisive Democratic primary election, former state legislator Diane Mitsch Bush prevailed over business owner James Iacino to earn a spot on the ballot for the 3rd Congressional District’s general election for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Bush has been on the general election ballot before, when she lost to Republican Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez by 8%. But this time, there is another GOP challenger: Lauren Boebert.
Boebert kicked the five-term incumbent congressman off the ballot in an upset victory Tuesday night with 54.6% of the Republican primary votes. From her initial foray into the public eye when she confronted former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, over gun rights at a rally he held in Texas, Boebert has been “very media savvy,” said Dick Wadhams, a Republican political consultant in Colorado.
Tipton is a solid conservative Republican, but Republicans are “generally upset with what they are seeing in the nation right now, and they wanted someone more visible and confrontational,” Wadhams said.
The current congressman won more counties than Boebert, but she won the big ones, including the Mesa and Pueblo counties.
But ideological newcomers toppling incumbents is happening in both parties – in the Democratic party, it was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Wadhams said.
“What (Boebert) accomplished is pretty remarkable,” Wadhams said. “But it is quite another thing to win a general election.”
Throughout her campaign, Boebert has drawn on broad issues of liberty and constitutional rights, but in the next four months, she will need to learn about and demonstrate an understanding of specific policy issues that pertain to the 3rd Congressional District, such as water, natural resources and public lands.
Paul DeBell, assistant professor of political science at Fort Lewis College, moderated a forum with the 3rd Congressional District candidates in June.
“She distills her message down effectively, and is savvy in Twitter and sound bites,” DeBell said. In this polarized age of politics, Boebert has had a campaign focused against current members of Congress by encouraging people to vote for her instead.
Her messaging suggests that by voting for Boebert, Coloradans are voting against lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez. For these reasons, DeBell said he sees Boebert as a serious candidate who should not be quickly dismissed.
“We are in a time where there is a lot of change possible at the state and local levels,” DeBell said. COVID-19 and the widespread protests have triggered a time of great economic and social anxiety, which makes people reconsider things, DeBell said.
Boebert was an “energetic and engaging campaigner,” which was “able to translate digitally,” DeBell said.
For Montrose County resident Michelle Huffnagle, Boebert came across as a “beautiful, poised, strong, intelligent woman.”
And Boebert’s pro-gun, pro-President Donald Trump agenda was appealing for Huffnagle, who said she believes in a “divine animal instinct to protect ourselves and our children.”
Huffnagle and her husband own small businesses, and she said Boebert will put small businesses first.
“She doesn’t censor herself – she’s very love me or leave me, and I love that,” Huffnagle said. But she said she also wants to see a “strong, intelligent female speaking for me as an American woman.”
Boebert was unavailable for comment Wednesday as she was traveling to South Dakota to lead Trump’s motorcade ahead of Independence Day.
Bev DeVore, a teacher in Alamosa, has had roots on the Western Slope for generations. Her grandfather owned the Trappers Lake Lodge in Meeker.
“I don’t remember having a female representative in Congress,” and Mitsch Bush “offers a breath of fresh air,” DeVore said.
As an educator, she said she supports Mitsch Bush because the former state legislator has worked to make schools debt-free in Colorado.
“Diane has a depth, as well as a breadth, of knowledge on the issues, whereas Boebert is more of a single- or double-issue candidate,” DeVore said. As far as working in a bipartisan manner, DeVore said Mitsch Bush is more likely to do so than Boebert.
The GOP candidate is more “my way or the highway,” DeVore said.
Lisa Katze-Fanger, a Wolcott resident, said she supports Mitsch Bush because the Democratic candidate “knows how to work across the aisle,” and knows how to read and write policy.
Mitsch Bush “shuts up and listens” when talking with constituents on the street, Katze-Fanger said.
And the gun strapped to Boebert’s thigh is “offensive in today’s environment,” given the message of white supremacy it brings, Katze-Fanger said. Furthermore, there is nothing on Boebert’s website about policy, she said.
As a climate change denier and someone who doesn’t wear a face mask in the era of COVID-19, Katze-Fanger said Boebert is not the kind of person she wants representing her in Congress.
But for Evan Todd, Boebert’s hard stances on the issues are why he supports her.
“She is fresh and new, and not a part of the establishment who think they run this country,” Todd said. Boebert is a business owner and a mother – an everyday American who “sees the issues and the struggles of the Western Slope,” Todd said.
He didn’t dislike Tipton, but the congressman had a “level of complacency” when it came to restraining the government’s involvement in people’s lives, Todd said.
In this time of uncertainty, “we need to broaden our horizons on what is possible politically,” DeBell said. “Tipton just kind of hoped that he had it.”