Rep. Lauren Boebert raised her right hand to be sworn in for her second term in the U.S. House of Representatives just five weeks ago – and she barely had time to lower it before two Democratic candidates announced they are running to challenge her when she is up for reelection in 2024.
One candidate is familiar. Adam Frisch, the former Aspen city councilman who came within 546 votes of unseating Boebert just three months ago, announced Tuesday that he will run again.
So far, the only other candidate to throw a hat into the ring is Debby Burnett, a Gunnison-based veterinarian and physical therapist who also ran in 2022 but did not make it onto the primary ballot.
The two Democrats hold starkly different opinions about campaign strategy when it comes to running as members of a party that ranks third in size in the district. Unaffiliated voters make up 44% of the 3rd Congressional District’s active voters, while Republicans make up 30% and Democrats constitute only 23%.
Frisch surprised pundits across the country with his performance in November, when he nearly unseated the incumbent with no help from the national party. He is once again billing himself as a common-sense moderate who holds little regard for partisan politics.
“This is what’s resonating – this moderate, ‘get stuff done’ thing,” Frisch said in an interview with The Durango Herald’s editorial board.
He is quick to tout the comments from Republicans, who approach him regretful that they supported Boebert for a second time and now see that she appears unhumbled by her surprisingly poor performance, as well as Democrats who did not cast a vote because they felt he was too moderate for their taste and assumed he would lose anyway.
“The ranchers and the farmers, they’re pragmatic as much as anything,” he said.
Frisch eschews party politics and blames certain statements by Democratic presidents for the emotional aversion that many Western Slope voters have to voting for Democrats.
“The party has done a really horrible job of providing dignity as we make this energy transformation that needs to happen, and is happening,” he said.
Burnett takes the opposite tack.
“I think we need to run as proud Democrats, at the same time making sure that we are understanding that the issues in this district can’t be put into one bucket or the other,” she said. “We all struggle with the same things.”
Burnett said the 2022 race indicated that Frisch was the wrong candidate.
“I think the question that we need to ask is, ‘Why did we not win?’ We should have won. So why did that not happen?” she said.
Given that 2024 will also be a presidential election year, Frisch, Burnett and other congressional hopefuls must consider how up-ticket candidates will impact voter turnout and their race.
Frisch said he intends to focus on the district, placing some distance between himself and likely candidate President Joe Biden. Burnett said she expects that increased voter turnout would work to her advantage if she were to be the nominee.
“Adam Frisch, or whoever the Democrats nominate, would probably have to put great distance between themselves in the Democratic nominee,” said Dick Wadhams, a Republican political consultant and a former Colorado Republican state chairman.
Wadhams said it is possible a more moderate Republican challenger to Boebert may emerge, especially given that Boebert’s recent performance during the beleaguered process of choosing a speaker of the House, the State of the Union and recent hearings with Twitter executives have demonstrated that she has not changed her temperament.
“We’ve seen since she won the election that she’s not going to back off the way she conducts herself as a member of Congress and the issues that she wants to tackle,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any mystery to what kind of candidate she is going to be for the next two years.”
Frisch hopes to make this work to his advantage. By his calculations, he needs to charm a much smaller portion of Boebert’s base to defeat her than a Republican would, given his existing base among Democrats and left-leaning unaffiliated voters.
Former state Sen. Don Coram, who lost to Boebert by 64 percentage points in the Republican primary, said he had hardly considered whether he would challenge her again in 2024.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but it’s unlikely,” Coram said.
Boebert’s campaign did not respond to a request to comment.
Burnett and Frisch recognized that voter fatigue will be a challenge to starting a campaign 20 months before ballots are cast. At an event Thursday at Steamworks Brewing Co. in Durango, Frisch repeatedly told donors handing him checks that he was only there to say thank you, and not to begin to ask voters to open their wallets.
“This is an ultramarathon, not just a marathon,” he said.