Lauren Boebert’s first hurdle in her new district: Getting on the ballot

Lauren Boebert is hoping to prolong her time in office by seeking reelection in a much redder House district than the already conservative one she currently represents, but the notoriously maladroit congresswoman still faces a gauntlet that has vexed many seasoned Colorado politicians more adept than her. And while many Republicans may be relieved they won’t have to rally behind Boebert to defend a potentially vulnerable seat, her departure opens the door for a candidate just as flawed to succeed her as the GOP’s standard-bearer, giving Democrats the chance to flip her 3rd District even without her on the ballot.

Boebert’s first challenge in the 4th District, an eastern Colorado seat held by retiring GOP Rep. Ken Buck, will be to make sure her name even appears on the June 25 primary ballot. Candidates can try to reach the primary in one of two ways: either by winning the support of at least 30% of the delegates at their party’s biennial convention (also known locally as an “assembly”) or by collecting the requisite 1,500 signatures. State law requires that conventions take place “no later than 73 days before the primary,” while the deadline to turn in petitions is March 19.

Campaigns can also opt to try both methods, but doing so still doesn’t offer a guarantee. If a candidate takes less than 10% of the vote at the convention, then their campaign is over no matter how many signatures they turn in. And both of these routes carry risk, something that another member of the state’s GOP delegation almost learned the hard way in back-to-back election cycles.

In 2016, Rep. Doug Lamborn decided not to gather signatures as he sought renomination for the safely red 5th District in Colorado Springs, when he thought he had little to fear from a little-known challenger Calandra Vargas. Delegates, though, unexpectedly favored Vargas by a wide 58-35 margin, a strong showing that almost eliminated Lamborn from contention. The congressman rallied to beat Vargas 68-32 in the primary a few months later, but that experience foreshadowed another tough race in 2018.

That cycle, two notable Republicans decided to take on Lamborn: El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn and state Sen. Owen Hill. Lamborn this time decided to gather petitions and skip the convention, but that decision almost blew up in his face when the state Supreme Court knocked him off the ballot after finding that he’d violated state law by hiring a petition collector who did not meet the state’s residency requirements. The congressman, however, successfully sued in federal court to overturn that law, and he went on to beat Glenn 52-20 in the primary.

Another Colorado Republican, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, ran into a different set of problems that year during his bid for governor when he was forced to ask the secretary of state to toss signatures his campaign had collected, saying that the company he’d hired had engaged in fraud. Unlike Lamborn, though, Stapleton also went through the assembly process and managed to save his campaign by securing 43% at the gathering. The treasurer went on to win the primary two months later, but he badly lost the general election to Democrat Jared Polis.

Stapleton could count himself lucky, though, compared to one of his would-be rivals, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. Despite winning a statewide race in 2014, Coffman failed to make the ballot altogether when she sought the governorship in 2018. The attorney general first tried to gather petitions, but due apparently to the time and expense involved, she switched course and announced she’d depend on the assembly to advance. Delegates rewarded that decision by giving her a mere 6%, terminating her campaign.

Familiarity with the local terrain is also helpful to any qualifier, but that’s something Boebert lacks, as her old and new districts cover opposite ends of the state. Boebert argued Wednesday that leaving her western Colorado seat behind was “the best way I can continue to fight for Colorado, for the conservative movement and for my children’s future,” but the Republicans who were already running to replace Buck see things differently.

“Does she think we’re that stupid?” asked state Rep. Richard Holtorf, who accused her of “seat shopping.” “Does she think we’re going to be fooled by this trickery?” Another intra-party rival, former state Sen. Ted Harvey, offered similar sentiments. “She has lost the confidence of the conservative voters in the 3rd Congressional District, so much so that she was probably going to lose that seat,” he told CBS News. “And so now she’s decided to cling to power and continue to be a career politician.”

The GOP field in the 4th District, which backed Donald Trump by a 58-39 margin, also includes conservative talk radio host Deborah Flora, Weld County Council member Trent Leisy, and Logan County Commissioner Jerry Sonnenberg.

Boebert’s departure from the 3rd, meanwhile, offers no guarantee that Republicans will be able to replace her with a more appealing alternative. In fact, one troublesome candidate has already emerged.

Former state Rep. Ron Hanks, an election denier who campaigned for the U.S. Senate last year as a “pro-Trump warrior,” launched a bid to represent western Colorado just two days after the congresswoman made her surprise switch. Donald Trump carried the constituency 53-45 in 2020, but Boebert’s 546-vote ​​win against Adam Frisch two years later gives Democrats reasons to hope that another hardliner could lose her seat.

Democrats may do more than hope that Republicans nominate Hanks. In 2022, the party spent serious sums to help ensure that Hanks would emerge as the GOP’s nominee against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Democratic ads ostensibly attacked Hanks, who had little money to air his own spots, for denying Joe Biden’s win and for wanting to ban abortions—language meant to make him more appealing to conservatives.

That effort fell just short, as wealthy businessman Joe O’Dea beat Hanks 54-46. But Hanks wasn’t done causing grief: A month before the general election, he endorsed Libertarian Brian Peotter as “the only conservative on the ballot,” saying of O’Dea, “There is only a fake Republican, a pay-to-play opportunist with no conservative values or agenda. He merits no support, and he’s not likely to get much.” Hanks was right on that last bit: Bennet won in a 56-41 blowout, with Peotter taking 2%.

Hanks, though, may have company in his latest primary. State Rep. Matt Soper tells the Post Independent that he’s considering the race, while the Colorado Sun’s Jesse Aaron Paul tweeted Wednesday that Colorado Board of Education member Stephen Varela has also expressed interest. Paul also mentions former state Sen. Don Coram, who lost the 2022 primary to Boebert 66-34, as a possibility. State Sen. Perry Will, however, said a congressional campaign is “probably not in the cards for me.”

Attorney Jeff Hurd was Boebert’s main primary foe before she hit the eject button, but it remains to be seen if a candidate who describes himself as “committed to consensus-building” can win over GOP base voters. Financial adviser Russ Andrews, a self-funder who says he supports abortion up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy, has also been running for months.

Frisch, meanwhile, says he’s continuing his second campaign following Boebert’s departure. Grand Junction Mayor Anna Stout is also seeking the Democratic nod, but she’s raised little compared to Frisch, who is one of the best-funded Democratic House candidates in the country.

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