In the Boebert district, as elsewhere, Democrats surge in the GOP primary

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BASALT, Colo. — Claudia Cunningham had never voted for a Republican in her life. She swore she couldn’t or her father would turn in his grave. But before Tuesday’s Colorado primary, she did the unthinkable: register as unaffiliated so she could vote in the GOP primary against her congresswoman, Lauren Boebert.

So did Ward Hauenstein, the interim mayor of Aspen; Sara Sanderman, a teacher from Glenwood Springs; Christopher Arndt, writer and financier at Telluride; Gayle Frazzetta, primary care physician at Montrose; and Karen Zink, a nurse practitioner in south Durango.

Driven by fear of extremism and worries about what they see as the authoritarianism embodied by Ms Boebert, thousands of Democrats in Colorado’s sprawling third congressional district rushed to support her Republican challenger, Sen. State Don Coram. Their goal is not to do what is best for democrats but to do what they think is best for democracy.

That’s a long way off: Mr. Coram raised about $226,000 in a late and largely unseen attempt to oust a national figure who raised $5 million.

But as Mr. Arndt noted, anti-Trump Republicans have set aside deep differences with liberal policies and voted for Democrats since 2016. It’s time, he said, for Democrats to give back reciprocate and place the preservation of democracy above all other causes.

Colorado’s crossover voters are part of a larger trend of Democrats stepping in to try to fend off the extremes of the GOP, in Georgia, North Carolina, Colorado, Utah and elsewhere.

“The center needs to reappear,” said Tom Morrison, a longtime Democrat from rural Pitkin County who voted for Mr Coram, not only in protest against Ms Boebert, but also in what he calls growing concern over the left of his party. derivative.

A nascent infrastructure supports the trend. The Country First Political Action Committee, created by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an anti-Trump Republican from Illinois, used text messages and online advertising to rally opposition against what the congressman called Republicans the most “toxic” and partisan. These include Representatives Madison Cawthorn, Republican of North Carolina, and Jody Hice, Republican of Georgia, who, with the support of Donald J. Trump, attempted to defeat Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after he resisted Mr Trump’s push to “find” the votes to overturn President Biden’s victory there.

In Utah, rather than supporting a Democrat in a heavily Republican state, 57% of delegates to the state’s Democratic convention, including Jenny Wilson, Mayor of Salt Lake City and the state’s most powerful Democrat, voted endorsed Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and anti-Trump Republican. He is running a tough independent campaign against Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican who initially worked to contest Mr. Biden’s victory.

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In Colorado, a constellation of small political groups have sprung up to oppose Ms Boebert’s re-election ahead of next week’s primary, 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, an affluent Republican developer who helped create the mega ski resort Snowmass in the 1970s.

“Jan. 6 was the breaking point for me,” Mr. Light said. “I couldn’t get anywhere with the national party, so I supported Don Coram.”

Advocates of the strategy cite a few successes. In the race for 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. Mr Raffensperger crossed the 50% threshold to avoid a second round by just over 27,000 votes.

More than 5,400 early or absentee votes cast in the western North Carolina primary, which included Mr. Cawthorn, also came from Democrats who had voted in their party’s primary two years earlier. Mr. Cawthorn lost by less than 1,500.

In Colorado, voters can vote in the Republican primary whether they are party-registered or unaffiliated. In Ms. Boebert’s district, Democratic Party officials counted about 3,700 more unaffiliated voters in this year’s Republican primary than 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 luminaries like Hillary Clinton and Marian Wright Edelman before “unaffiliating” in January to work for Mr. Coram, said the number of independents from both parties mobilizing against Ms Boebert was “grossly understated”. .”

Ms. Boebert’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. She remains a prohibitive favorite on Tuesday.

Hardly anyone would say the influx of Democratic voters into the Republican primaries this year was driven by an organized effort.

“What have we done to reach out to the Democrats? The answer is nothing,” said JD Key, campaign manager for Mr. Coram. “It’s completely organic.”

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Some Democratic officials have tried to stem the effort, partly worried that Mr. Coram will be the hardest Republican to beat in November, and partly that new disaffiliates will not return. Dr. Frazzetta has emailed patients, left literature in her office, and even urged the dispensing pharmacists she works with to consider voting in the Republican primary. Among the blizzard of positive responses was a harshly negative reaction, she said, from a local Democratic Party official.

A new map made the district more Republican, but Mr. Trump won the old district with 52% of the vote in 2020, not a staggering total. Judy Wender, an Aspen Democrat who resisted pleas from friends to opt out, said there are good reasons to vote next week in the Democratic primary: Three very different Democrats will be on the ballot , and the good could be a threat to Mrs. Boebert in the fall.

Howard Wallach, a retired Brooklyn high school teacher who leads the Pitkin County Democratic Party with his wife, Betty, was also disapproving. The Republican primary ballot includes several candidates from Ms. Boebert’s party wing, including a Senate candidate, State Sen. Ron Hanks, who marched to the Capitol Jan. 6; a candidate for Secretary of State, Tina Peters, who was charged in March with 10 counts related to allegations that she tampered with election materials after the 2020 election; and a gubernatorial candidate, Greg Lopez, who backed Ms Peters’ false election claims and said he would forgive her if elected.

Mr. Wallach asked: Will these voters new to Republican politics be willing to choose in these races?

“They’re desperate,” he said of the newly independent voters. “They are mad.”

Several Democrats have said that attitude is part of the reason the nation finds itself at this crossroads, with two opposing camps, unwilling to find common ground at the center. The anger and fear stoked by Mr. Trump and his supporters like Ms. Boebert may have “fertilized the ground for tyranny,” as Jackie Merrill, a newly disaffiliated Democrat, put it, but Democrats played a part.

“Progressive Democrats continue to believe that if they can just win power, they can bring the country with them to all these liberal causes,” Morrison said. “And they can’t.”

In a sense, Ms. Boebert is a special case for the “disaffiliation” cause. His 9,873-vote primary victory two years ago over a mainstream Republican, Scott Tipton, shocked voters here. If many western Colorado residents didn’t know the gun-wielding restaurant owner then, they all do now.

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She actively opposed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, although recently, she claimed some of her projectsand on Wednesday, she led a group of House hardliners denouncing the Senate gun safety compromise bill.

“She gets paid $174,000 a year. so she can tweet in ragesaid Pete Tovorek, 52, during lunch at Miner’s Claim restaurant in Ms. Boebert’s hometown of Silt, Colo.

Above all, say many Democrats and Republicans, the vast district needs help, and Ms. Boebert shows no desire to take her job seriously. The San Luis Valley to the south is parched by drought. The Colorado River is at its lowest. Income inequality between Aspen and Telluride and nearby struggling ranch land has exacerbated housing prices and labor shortages.

“We are upside down,” said Mr. Hauenstein, the mayor of Aspen, where the median rental listing is $22,500 per month — “not a typo,” as The Colorado Sun put it.

Of course, Ms. Boebert has devoted fans. His biggest base of support is not in his home county of Garfield, in the western shadow of the High Rockies, but in Grand Junction. But Rob Baughman, of Meeker, Colorado, near Garfield, said he appreciated her uncompromising voice, even as his wife, Susan, denounced her congresswoman’s lack of a “filter”.

At Ms. Boebert’s restaurant, Shooters Grill, on quaint Main Street in Rifle, Colorado, ‘Trump Won’ and ‘Drill Baby Drill’ T-shirts are on sale as waitresses serve food with handguns on the hips. A patron called Ms. Boebert a “good answer to AOC” (using the shorthand of 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 rejection they received from old friends — convinced them that the shape of political activism should change if a center should reappear.

“All that dark mumbling about what would happen if you unaffiliated with the Democrats,” Ms Cunningham said in amazement. “There is a certain quality of disbelief in what happens to normal people. We have to overcome that. »

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