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What we learned from CD-3 midterm elections

Steve Mandell

The recent elections in our 3rd Congressional District may be a turning point. But where it is leading us is far from settled. Nevertheless, there are four lessons from the recent election worth exploring.

1. The rejection of extremism is growing, including among Republicans. Yet, we remain bitterly divided.

Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District is a microcosm of the divide in the U.S.

* Red counties/blue Counties. Lauren Boebert won a majority in 14 counties while Adam Frisch won 13. Frisch flipped two counties (Alamosa and Huerfano), but Boebert none.

* Enthusiasm for Boebert declines. In 2020, Boebert received more than 60% of the vote in nine counties. This time, only five counties delivered those results. In contrast, voters gave Frisch more than 60% of the vote in eight counties.

* La Plata County Republicans are turning. Frisch beat Boebert in LaPlata County by 7,747 votes, a gain of 1,929 over 2020 results against another Democrat candidate. And, even worse for Boebert, this is with a 2022 turnout that saw almost 5,500 fewer voters.

2. Republican Party divisions will continue and intensify. Western Slope Republicans are divided over Donald Trump.

Republican leaders in Mesa and Montrose counties believe that unaffiliated voters, overwhelmingly, do not like Trump. But LaPlata County Republican Chair Dave Peters, beyond saying he was “disappointed in the outcome,” wouldn’t comment on the election. When asked if it was time to move on from Trump, his response was a terse, “no comment.”

However, given Trump’s cult following, it is likely that many of the conspiracy-minded, true believers are not ready to move on. We will see if Republicans, as they’ve done many times before, backtrack and capitulate to Trump in order to keep the support of his base.

3. Trumpism is more than a narcissistic personality. It is a rejection of Western Slope tradition and values.

Moving on from Trump and his narcissistic personality is different from moving on from Trumpism. But the policies Republicans like Ron DeSantis and Michael Pence admire have little in common with the values of Western Coloradoans.

Westerners value independence. They believe the federal government should stay out of our personal lives. Yet, the current Supreme Court is establishing a morality police state that pries into our personal relationships.

There is a long tradition here of accepting personal responsibility. Political extremists talk about freedom, then deny the responsibility to the community that comes with it. They think freedom means being able to harass and threaten election workers and educators.

4. The voice and influence of moderates is growing.

The razor slim Republican control of Congress gives leverage to moderates. Politico’s Katherine Tully-McManus reports the Problem Solvers Caucus, a congressional group seeking bipartisan cooperation, is “suddenly a sought-after group, with everyone from the Freedom Caucus to Democratic senators reaching out.”

The Problem Solvers Caucus is growing with almost 90 members. One possibility, Tully-McManus reports, would see the caucus “only endorsing bills that have both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors when introduced.”

A year ago, it was difficult to find a Republican willing to speak out publicly. Today, Republicans and former Republicans are not only speaking out, but reaching out to like-minded Republicans across the 3rd District.

The bottom line: We can feel better about the fact that resistance to extremism is growing. But the authoritarian threat to democracy is real and serious. Boebert still holds power. Extremists have made gains in other parts of the country. It will take conservatives, liberals and moderates, working together, if there is a chance of overcoming extremism.

Steve Mandell is a researcher and writer in Montrose.