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Some Democrats speak out against party-shifting as a voter strategy

3rd District candidate says focus should be on organizing, educating voters
Lauren Boebert and Don Coram

Some Democrats in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District are denouncing a strategy to use Democrat-turned-unaffiliated voters as a method of defeating Rep. Lauren Boebert in the June Republican primary.

Their reactions come after The Durango Herald reported last week that some groups and individuals are informing Democrats of their ability to change party affiliation to unaffiliated as a means to vote against Boebert in the Republican primary, where she is likely to face state Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

The idea is being promoted in a letter-writing campaign to 3rd District newspapers, and progressive grassroots organization Indivisible Durango also floated, but didn’t directly promote, the idea to 900 of its members in a newsletter distributed last week.

Herb Bowman, chairman of the La Plata County Democratic Party, said Republicans should have the opportunity to pick their own candidates in the primary.

“The party understands that people are frustrated with having a representative like Ms. Boebert,” he said. “She’s not a serious legislator, in my view. Even so, Democrats – the party – does not endorse switching from Democrat to unaffiliated for the primaries.”

The winning strategy, Bowman suggested, is to focus on supporting a strong Democratic candidate who will emphasize issues “important to the average voter” like education, economic growth, affordable housing and health care. Which issues, and candidate, that ultimately make it to Washington will be largely influenced by the unaffiliated voter population.

According to January 2022 data provided by the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, unaffiliated voters make up nearly 42% of the 502,552 registered and active voters in the 3rd Congressional District. About 31% are registered as Republicans, 26% as Democrats and the other 1% are affiliated with third parties.

Debby Burnett, a Democratic candidate running to represent the district, said her campaign doesn’t support the strategy of switching to unaffiliated because it “distracts from our very common mission as Democrats.”

“We lose the ability to register the nearly 100,000 individuals in the district who aren't currently registered to vote, you know, resources could be better spent in that area,” she said. “We lose the ability to organize and to educate voters as to why Democrats are the answer to our problems.”

Democrats who register as unaffiliated for the Republican primary are also prevented from having a say in “everything that goes into the makeup and the infrastructure of the local Democratic Party,” Burnett said. By voting cross-party, they lose the ability to influence their own party’s platform, she said. Two other Democratic campaigns – for Sol Sandoval and Colin Wilhelm – also expressed doubt about the strategy in statements to the Herald.

Boebert and the La Plata County Republican Party said the strategy was a “con” and a “weapon to manipulate primary elections” in respective statements to the Herald last week.

Republican consultant and analyst Dick Wadhams said he doubts the notion will gain enough traction to have any real effect on the Republican primary. Even if Boebert lost in the primary, which is unlikely for an incumbent, Democrats would still face an uphill battle to win a seat that has been held by a Republican for over a decade, he said.

“What congresswoman Boebert is going to have to do over the course of this campaign … is she’s got to show why she’s effective for the district and what she’s done for the district since she got elected in 2020,” Wadhams said. “That is her challenge, but she has extraordinary advantages as the incumbent, and I think I would have to say that her style is very popular among Republicans in the 3rd District.”

Skye Witley, a senior at American University in Washington, D.C., is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez. He can be reached at switley@durangoherald.com.

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