Sunday, June 23, 2024

At a casino bingo hall in southwestern Colorado, Lauren Boebert, the Republican congresswoman, was seen bouncing her 6-month-old grandson on her knee. “The election’s still a ways away,” she said, as guests arrived for the Montezuma County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner. “And in talking with people at events like this, you know, it seems like there’s a lot of mercy and a lot of grace.”

Earlier, Ms. Boebert, who was in the midst of finalizing a divorce at the time, was caught on a security camera vaping and groping her date before getting kicked out of a performance of the musical “Beetlejuice” at the Buell Theater in Denver. The incident contradicted her initial claims about what happened, and the venue’s statement that she demanded preferential treatment only added to the outrage.

The incident has caused some trouble for Ms. Boebert, who has become known for her provocative and unapologetic politics, particularly within the Republican Party’s right wing during the Biden era. Several local Republican officials have since endorsed Jeff Hurd, a more conventional Republican candidate running against her for the nomination this year.

Mr. Hurd’s campaign has become a platform for Republican discontent with what they see as the excessive behavior of the party’s MAGA wing. His supporters include established party figures such as former Gov. Bill Owens, former Senator Hank Brown, and Pete Coors, the brewery scion, former Senate candidate, and 2016 Trump fundraiser, who is expected to endorse him soon.

Other Hurd supporters are primarily concerned with preventing further losses for the party in the state, and some were previously fans of Ms. Boebert who believe she has changed since gaining political fame. “That crap she pulled in Denver pissed me off,” said David Spiegel, a 53-year-old road traffic controller and Montezuma party activist. He expressed his frustrations to Mr. Hurd at the dinner, while Ms. Boebert was sitting nearby.

Polls for the primary race have not yet been released, so it is unclear if Ms. Boebert has truly fallen out of favor with the party’s voters. In interviews throughout the district, there were still supporters who stood by her. “She’s aggressive, she’s young, she’s got better ideas than most of them,” said Charles Dial, a business owner in Moffat County. He dismissed the theater incident and compared the attention it received to what was done to Trump.

However, Mr. Hurd’s endorsements indicate a concern among some party stalwarts that Ms. Boebert, while still popular among the right, may now be seen as a wounded figure. In 2022, despite her district’s solid Republican lean, she won re-election by a slim margin of just 546 votes. This vulnerability has made her defeat in this year’s primary a sought-after goal for Democrats.

Adam Frisch, a Democrat who ran against her in 2022, hopes to challenge her again next year, but first he must win a primary against Anna Stout, the mayor of Grand Junction. Mr. Frisch has already raised nearly $7.8 million in donations, surpassing all other House candidates except Kevin McCarthy and Hakeem Jeffries.

When asked about a potential rematch with Mr. Frisch, Cody Davis, a Mesa County commissioner who switched his endorsement from Ms. Boebert to Mr. Hurd, said, “I’ll definitely vote for Lauren, but at the same time, I don’t think she can win.”

Ms. Boebert gained national attention in 2020 after winning a surprising primary victory in Colorado’s Third District. As the owner of a gun-themed bar and restaurant, she quickly became a sensation within the party’s right wing, which had been looking for its own version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Despite her initial popularity, some Republicans have grown disillusioned with Ms. Boebert, particularly due to her association with Trump and her support for his false claims about the 2020 election. Mr. Hurd, on the other hand, presents himself as a more stable and less controversial alternative. He is a lifelong conservative but a political newcomer, and his policy views align closely with Ms. Boebert’s on issues such as gun rights.

However, Mr. Hurd takes a less absolute stance on abortion and is more focused on promoting unity and the rule of law within the party. He presents himself as a candidate who can bring stability and appeal to a broader range of voters.

The primary contest for Ms. Boebert’s seat has become a battleground between different factions within the Republican Party. Some see it as a fight between the old guard and the grassroots activists who now dominate the party. Others are simply concerned that Ms. Boebert’s controversial image could lead to a loss against Mr. Frisch, a conservative Democrat.

Mr. Frisch’s near-victory in 2022 was unexpected, and his campaign ran out of funds just weeks before the election. This time, however, he has already secured significant financial support, with his campaign and outside Democratic groups reserving $1.2 million in advertising for the race. In contrast, Republicans have spent very little in the district so far.

Ms. Boebert’s campaign manager, Drew Sexton, believes that the upcoming election will be different from the last, and that her supporters will come out in large numbers. On the campaign trail, Ms. Boebert is working hard to show her supporters that she values their votes and is not taking them for granted.

Overall, the primary contest for Colorado’s Third District is shaping up to be a major test for Ms. Boebert’s political career. With a formidable challenger in Mr. Frisch and growing discontent within her own party, it remains to be seen whether she can maintain her position as one of the party’s most prominent figures.

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