BASALT, Colo. – Claudia Cunningham had never voted Republican in her life. She swore she couldn’t or her father would turn over in his grave. But prior to Tuesday’s Colorado primary, she did the once unthinkable: registered as unaffiliated so she could vote against her congressman, Lauren Boebert, in the GOP primary.
So was Ward Hauenstein, the mayor of Aspen; Sara Sanderman, a schoolteacher from Glenwood Springs; Christopher Arndt, a writer and financier in Telluride; Gayle Frazzetta, a general practitioner in Montrose; and Karen Zink, a nurse practitioner south of Durango.
Driven by fears of extremism and concerns about what they see as an authoritarianism embodied in Boebert, thousands of Democrats in Colorado’s sprawling 3rd congressional district have rushed to back her Republican challenger, Senator Don Coram. Their goal is not to do what is best for Democrats, but what they think is best for democracy.
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It’s a guess: Coram has raised about $226,000 in a late-start, largely unseen bid to oust a national figure who has brought in $5 million.
But as Arndt noted, anti-Trump Republicans have set aside major differences with liberal policies and voted for Democrats since 2016. It is time, he said, for Democrats to return the favor and put the preservation of democracy above all other causes.
The crossover voters in Colorado are part of a wider trend of Democrats stepping in to try to push back the extremes of the GOP, in Georgia, North Carolina, Colorado, Utah and elsewhere.
“The center needs to rear its head again,” said Tom Morrison, a lifelong Democrat in rural Pitkin County who voted for Coram not only in protest against Boebert, but also against what he calls a growing concern about the upward movement of his party.
A nascent infrastructure is supporting the trend. The Country First Political Action Committee, founded by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an anti-Trump Republican from Illinois, has used text messages and online advertisements to oppose what the congressman has called the most “toxic” and partisan Republicans. Those include Representatives Madison Cawthorn, RN.C., and Jody Hice, R-Ga., who, with Donald Trump’s support, attempted to defeat Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, after resisting Trump’s pressure to to “find” the voices. to nullify President Joe Biden’s victory there.
In Utah, 57% of delegates to the state’s Democratic convention, including Jenny Wilson, the mayor of Salt Lake County and the state’s most powerful Democrat, did not support a Democrat in a strongly Republican state, but supported Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and an anti-Trump Republican. He is running an uphill independent campaign against Senator Mike Lee, a Republican who initially worked to challenge Biden’s victory.
In Colorado, a constellation of small political groups opposed to Boebert’s re-election ahead of next week’s primaries has emerged, such as Rural Colorado United and the Better Than Boebert PAC, formed by Joel Dyar, a liberal community organizer in Grand Junction. , and James Light , a prosperous Republican developer who helped build the mega ski resort of Snowmass in the 1970s.
“Jan. 6 was the breaking point for me,” said Light. “With the National Party I got nowhere, so I was behind Don Coram.”
Proponents of the strategy point to some success stories. In Georgia’s Secretary of State, at least 67,000 people who voted in Georgia’s Democratic primary two years ago voted in the Republican primary, an unusually high number. Raffensperger passed the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff with just over 27,000 votes.
More than 5,400 early or absent votes cast in western North Carolina primaries, including Cawthorn, also came from Democrats who had voted in their party’s primaries two years earlier. Cawthorn lost by less than 1,500.
In Colorado, voters can vote in the Republican primaries if they are registered with the party or unaffiliated. In the Boebert district, Democratic Party officials counted about 3,700 more disaffiliated voters in the Republican primary this year compared to two years ago. They are largely concentrated in the Democratic centers of Pitkin County, home to Aspen, where you can never be too rich or too liberal, and LaPlata County, where Durango is teeming with young people.
Mike Hudson, a Durango activist who worked for Democratic celebrities like Hillary Clinton and Marian Wright Edelman before “unsubscribing” from working for Coram in January, said the number of independents from both parties mobilizing against Boebert was “grossly underestimated.” became”.
Boebert’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Tuesday she remains a priceless favorite.
Hardly anyone would say that the influx of Democratic voters into this year’s Republican primary has been an organized effort.
“What have we done to reach the Democrats? The answer is nothing,” says JD Key, Coram’s campaign manager. “This is completely organic.”
Some Democratic officials have tried to halt the effort, partly fearing that Coram will be the harder-to-beat Republican in November, and partly that the newly resigned members may not come back.
Frazzetta has emailed patients, left literature in her office, and even pressured the compounding pharmacies she works with to consider voting in the Republican primary. Among the deluge of positive response was one sternly negative response, she said, from a local Democratic Party official.
A new map has made the district more Republican, but Trump won the old district with 52% of the vote in 2020, not a dizzying total. Judy Wender, an Aspen Democrat who has resisted pleas from friends to exclude themselves, said there was good reason to vote in the Democratic primaries next week: Three very different Democrats will be on the ballot, and the right one would be. could pose a threat to Boebert in the trap.
Howard Wallach, a retired Brooklyn high school teacher who leads the Pitkin County Democratic Party with his wife Betty, also disapproved. The Republican primary vote includes several candidates from Boebert’s wing of the party, including a Senate candidate, state senator Ron Hanks, who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6; a candidate for Secretary of State, Tina Peters, who was indicted in March on 10 charges related to allegations that she had tampered with election equipment after the 2020 election; and a candidate for governor, Greg Lopez, who is adhering to Peters’ false election claims and saying he would pardon her if she were elected.
Wallach asked: Will these voters who are new to Republican politics be willing to elect in those races?
“They are desperate,” he said of the newly independent voters. “They are crazy.”
Several Democrats said the attitude is one of the reasons the nation is at this crossroads, with two opposing camps unwilling to find common ground in the center. The anger and fear fueled by Trump and his followers like Boebert may have “fertilized the ground for tyranny,” as Jackie Merrill, a newly out-of-state Democrat, put it, but the Democrats have played a part.
“Progressive Democrats continue to believe that if only they can come to power, they can take the country toward all these liberal goals,” Morrison said. “And they can’t.”
In a sense, Boebert is a special case for the “out-of-body” cause. Her primary victory with 9,873 votes two years ago over Republican regular Scott Tipton shocked voters here. If many Western Coloradoans didn’t know the restaurant owner then, they all know now.
A number of voters put forward her Christmas photo, which shows her four young sons armed with AR-15s (and Green Bay Packers and Las Vegas Raiders sweatshirts in the country of Broncos). She also impressed by yelling at Biden during his State of the Union address and challenging Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who is Muslim, by suggesting she could be a suicide bomber. And she helped install metal detectors outside the room of the house with her vows to carry a gun on the floor of the house.
She actively opposed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, though she has recently taken credit for some of its projects, and on Wednesday led a group of House hardliners denouncing the Senate’s compromise gun safety bill.
“She gets paid $174,000 a year so she can tweet furiously,” said Pete Tovorek, 52, over lunch at the Miner’s Claim restaurant in Boebert’s hometown, Silt, Colorado.
Above all, many Democrats and Republicans say, the sprawling district needs help and Boebert shows no inclination to take her job seriously. The San Luis Valley in the south has been parched by drought. The Colorado River is on the back burner. Income inequality between Aspen and Telluride and the nearby troubled areas has exacerbated housing prices and labor shortages.
“We’re upside down,” said Hauenstein, the mayor of Aspen, where the median rent is $22,500 a month — “not a typo,” as The Colorado Sun put it.
Of course, Boebert has devoted fans. Its main focal point is not at its home base in Garfield County, in the western shadow of the high Rockies, but in Grand Junction. But Rob Baughman, of Meeker, Colorado, in a county near Garfield, said he appreciated her uncompromising vote, even as his wife, Susan, disapproved of the lack of a “filter” for her congressman.
Boebert’s restaurant, Shooters Grill, on the picturesque main drag of Rifle, Colorado, sells “Trump Won” and “Drill Baby Drill” T-shirts, while waitresses serve food with guns on their hips. A patron called Boebert “a good answer to AOC” (abbreviated to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Liberal Democrat) before a waitress ushered this reporter out of the premises.
Regardless of the outcome, however, several Democrats said their decisions to vote in the Republican primary — and the backlash they faced from old friends — convinced them that the form of political activism would have to change if a center were to reappear.
“All that dark mumbling about what would happen if you pulled out of the Democrats,” Cunningham said in amazement. “There is a certain amount of disbelief in what is happening among normal people. We have to get over that.”
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