ASPEN – Win or lose, Democrat Adam Frisch shocked Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and the national Democratic establishment that gave him little chance of succeeding in Tuesday’s election.
Logging thousands of miles driving across a district the size of Mississippi, his goal was to meet voters in person and overcome the stigma of being a millionaire from Aspen. The race in the 3rd Congressional District was still too close to call Wednesday afternoon, but Frisch held a narrow lead in a district that was widely believed to favor Republicans.
Frisch, a former currency trader whose only political experience was serving on Aspen’s city council, sought to make a case that he was a moderate Democrat who would focus on western Colorado and not be a part of what he calls the D.C. circus.
“I am a calm, cool, collected person and passionate about why I’m doing this and what I believe in. And people just want competency and seriousness,” he told The Colorado Sun as his watch party started Tuesday night in downtown Aspen. “The line I used that resonated the most is people just want the circus to stop and I saw a lot of heads go up and down, even when I was in some pretty Republican areas.
“Most people, ranchers and farmers are pragmatic,” he said. “They don’t want the circus. They want someone to focus on them and their business and their community.”
Frisch, 55, served two, four-year terms on Aspen City Council starting in 2011 after a failed run three years earlier. In March 2019, he lost in a bid to become mayor, finishing third in the four-person race, and said he was going to take a break and reset.
Frisch emerged from the pandemic looking for more and frustrated by Boebert’s antics. He announced his Democratic bid in the district in February and immediately started to canvass the expansive district, which covers the entire Western Slope and parts of southern Colorado, including Pueblo.
Since then, he has logged more than 23,000 miles and attended hundreds of community events and meet-and-greets. He said Tuesday he’s been home about seven days in the past seven months.
After he won the June primary, beating Sol Sandoval, a Democratic activist from Pueblo, by fewer than 300 votes, Frisch and his team started on another massive road trip.
He keyed in on Pueblo and Mesa counties, the two largest population centers in the 27-county district. But he knew it would take more than that.
Frisch had to get in front of rural voters and let them know his roots, he said, and not just be the liberal candidate from the glitzy mountain enclave of Aspen. His family’s heritage includes ranching; he just had to let voters know about it.
“I just needed to get over the mountain town skepticism, which is all fair, especially coming from this town,” he told The Colorado Sun on Tuesday night. “I just had to get in front of people. I’ve always known two or three times the amount of voters we need are not Democrats who do not want to vote for her, it’s just convincing them that I was the safe enough choice to make them walk across the street, if you will.”
At his stop Tuesday afternoon in Grand Junction, Frisch told The Sun he took a page from former U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, who in 2010 unseated the three-term Democrat John Salazar by actively getting out and meeting people. Boebert upset Tipton to win the seat in 2020, but some voters now complain that she doesn’t interact much with the public.
During a recent trip to Alamosa, Frisch said people who came up to him expressed surprise that he would speak to them or take questions because Boebert had not when she was in the area.
“I think people saw some genuineness in me and a fairly good grasp of issues and they had a chance to learn a lot more about my rural background,” he said Tuesday night, while waiting for the initial results to come in.
Frisch was born in Montana on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation when his father was there to do work in the public health. When he was 5, the family relocated to Minneapolis.
His father, Mel, became an obstetrician-gynecologist in the early 1970s and he later worked for Planned Parenthood before retiring. His parents now live in Arizona and made the trip to Aspen for the watch party, along with one of his three younger sisters.
During high school in Minneapolis at the Blake School, he was part of integrating the public school system and was bused “from the white suburbs to a predominantly Black school in the city.” With a passion for ski racing, he decided he wanted to go to college at the University of Colorado and try to make the college team. He went to CU in the fall 1986, but an injury cut short his athletic dreams. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1990 and went to New York.
He got a job first as a server and a year later as a currency trader and did that for more than a decade before returning to Colorado in 2002 and lived on the Western Slope.
“I wanted to get into some type of finance,” he said. “I have a knack and interest in numbers and thought be interesting to live in New York City.”
He was on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center during the terrorist bombing in 1993, and was working in midtown Manhattan during the 2001 attack. (He also finished the 2013 Boston Marathon about 20 minutes before the bomb went off near the finish line.)
Frisch made his fortune in New York and traveled the world, going to nearly 50 countries. He met his wife, Katie, who was an investment banker, in Vail in 2002 while on a ski trip. Katie grew up skiing and playing sports in New York.
The couple, who have two children, got married in September 2003 in Vail and moved to Aspen two months later. He started to work in home building and construction and quickly got involved in community issues around housing.
He first served and chaired the Financial Advisory Board for Pitkin County for six years, then in 2009 started to work with the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, which runs the affordable housing program in the area. His main focus there was finding fixes for homeowner associations that have capital reserve fund problems.
In 2008, he lost in his first run for Aspen City Council, but came back three years later to win the first of his two terms.
Katie Frisch was elected to the Aspen School District board in 2019 and now is the board president. During the pandemic, Adam got his substitute teacher certification to help with getting kids back into schools and supporting the staff.
Their son, Felix, is a junior at Aspen High School and has been on the road with his father much of the summer and this fall.
In the final 11-day run up to the election, Adam and Felix traveled 3,300 miles and made 102 stops.
On the road he’s been able to connect with the ranchers and farmers in the district because of his family’s Western history. His great-grandfather started a cattle-trading business and one of Frisch’s cousins still runs it.
That, he said, and his tempered personality started to appeal to the more conservative voters who were looking for someone to represent them and not a bold person out for attention.
After years of stability with Tipton winning five times without much competition, the 3rd Congressional District has been a bit of a mystery the past two elections. No one saw Boebert beating the longtime representative in the 2020 Republican primary.
In her two years in Washington, Boebert has made a name for herself by being brash, stoking partisanship and broadcasting her disdain for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But Democratic leaders in Washington figured Boebert’s style would still resonate with 3rd District voters, and the national party did not put any money into Frisch’s campaign. He said Tuesday night he couldn’t get much attention from the party or the national media the past few months, but suddenly that shifted.
“People that I tried to pester for months and months are finally returning my phone calls,” he said late Tuesday. “We certainly proved a point at one level that taking the high road, being positive, building a coalition, not disrespecting a bunch of voters, and working really, really, really hard with a really, really great group of people is a way to win.”
He reported raising nearly $159,000 from donors giving $1,000 or more after Oct. 19. Boebert raised $67,000 from big donors during that same time period.
On the national level, two new Democratic super PACs threw a bit of money his way. Colorado United PAC spent $290,000 and People for Good Sense spent $273,000 on TV, radio and digital advertising in the past month.
Colorado United PAC received $175,000 from PAC founder John Powers of Boulder, who also founded the Alliance Center in Denver, which houses several progressive groups. The PAC also received $100,000 from Denver investor John S. Buckley Jr.
People for Good Sense founder and Aspen investor Adam Lewis donated $100,000 and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman chipped in $50,000.
Frisch would be the first Democrat to hold the seat since Salazar, who served the district for three terms starting in 2004 before losing to Tipton in the 2010 election.
Sun reporter Sandra Fish contributed to this report.