Lauren Boebert, Facing Primary, Is Haunted by Beetlejuice Episode

In a casino bingo hall in southwestern Colorado, Rep. Lauren Bobert, a Republican, bounced her 6-month-old grandson on her knee.

“The election is still a long way off,” he said, as guests arriving for the Montezuma County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner filed into the room. “And when you talk to people at events like this, you know, it seems like there’s a lot of mercy and a lot of grace.”

Last month, Ms. Boebert, then in the midst of finalizing a divorce, was caught on a security camera vaping and scissoring her date just before she was kicked out of a performance of the musical “Beetlejuice” at the Buell Theater in Denver for causing a disturbance. The video contradicted her initial claims about the incident and the venue’s statement that Ms Bobert had asked for preferential treatment added to the furore.

The episode has proved surprisingly sticky for Ms. Bobert, a policy that more than any other has embodied the delightfully provocative politics of the party’s right wing in the Biden era. Several local Republican officials have since announced their support for Jeff Hurd, a more conventional Republican who is challenging her for the nomination this year.

Mr Hurd’s candidacy has become a vessel for Republicans’ discontent with the perceived excesses of the party’s MAGA wing. His backers include old-guard party figures such as former Gov. Bill Owens, former Sen. Hank Brown and Pete Coors, the brewer’s scion, former Senate candidate and Trump fundraiser in 2016, who will soon offer his support of, according to Mr. Heard’s campaign.

Other Hurd supporters are more concerned about extending the party’s recent losing streak in the state, and some are one-time admirers of Ms. Bobert who complain that she has been changed by her political celebrity.

“This mess he pulled in Denver pissed me off,” David Spiegel, a 53-year-old traffic controller and Montezuma party activist, told Mr. Heard as he mingled with dinner guests near where Ms. Bobert sat.

Polls have not yet been released in the primary race, and the question of whether Ms. Bobert, whose political celebrity far exceeds her formal influence in Congress, has actually been favored by party voters remains speculative for now. In interviews across the region, it was easy to find supporters who still stood by her.

“She’s aggressive, she’s young, she’s got better ideas than most,” said Charles Dial, who runs a steel fabrication and recycling business in deep red Moffat County, which Ms. Boebert won by more than 59 points in 2022. shrugged off the theater incident and compared the attention it generated to “what they’re doing to Trump.”

But Mr Hurd’s endorsements suggest concern among some party forces that if Ms Bobert remains a right-wing spirit animal, she may be wounded.

In 2022, despite her district’s solid Republican leaning, she won re-election by just 546 votes. The near defeat established her as the most vulnerable of the party’s most mainstream politicians and made her defeat this year a coveted trophy for Democrats.

Adam Fries, an Aspen attorney who ran as a Democrat against her in 2022, hopes to challenge her again next year, though he first faces a primary against Anna Stout, the mayor of Grand Junction. Mr. Frisch has raised nearly $7.8 million in donations, more than any 2024 House candidate except Kevin McCarthy, the recently ousted Republican speaker, and Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic minority leader.

In August, before the incident with the theater, a voting commissioned by Mr. Frisch’s campaign found him ahead of Ms. Boebert by two points.

In a rematch with Mr. Fries, “I’m definitely going to vote for Lauren,” said Cody Davis, a Mesa County commissioner who switched his endorsement from Ms. Bobert to Mr. Hurd. “But at the same time, I don’t think he can win.”

Ms. Bobert burst onto the political scene in 2020 after winning a primary upset in Colorado’s Third District, which spans the entire western slope of the state and nearly half the state.

At the time, a 33-year-old owner of a gun-themed bar and restaurant defying the pandemic, the lockdown in the small town of Rifle, was an instant sensation on the right wing of the party, which was clearly longing for its own answer to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young, left-wing congresswoman from New York with social media savvy.

“It was a bonfire,” recalls Kevin McCarney, then chairman of the Mesa County Republican Party, with admiration. Last year, Mr. McCarney defended Ms. Bobert in the media after being criticized for President Biden’s ramblings as he spoke about his son’s death in his State of the Union address.

“I was still standing with her until her little escape,” he said, referring to Ms. Bobert’s behavior during “Beetlejuice.”

After that, Mr. McCarney endorsed Mr. Hurd.

A 44-year-old lawyer from Grand Junction, Mr. Hurd is, by his own account, a lifelong conservative but new to politics. The son of a local medical clinic director, he attended the University of Notre Dame and planned to become a Catholic priest when he met his wife, Barbora, at an American Enterprise Institute seminar in Bratislava. He went to law school.

Soft-spoken and cerebral — he cites the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” as his favorite book — Mr. Hurd has similar policy views to Ms. Bobert on gun rights and conservative but less extreme views on abortion.

It presents itself as a relief from the turmoil, tabloid headlines and Trump-centricity that Ms. Bobert represents to her critics.

Mr Heard appears only peripherally in his first campaign ad, in which Barbora describes her journey to American citizenship after a childhood in communist Czechoslovakia and warns that “we cannot take this freedom for granted” – a step of Reagan also nodding. to his concern about the danger of authoritarianism within his own party.

Asked if he had voted for Mr. Trump in past elections, Mr. Hurd declined to answer, but then described a vision of the Republican Party where “we believe in, you know, the rule of law, the peaceful transfer of power in elections.”

“When we as Republicans lose an election,” he continued, “we have to figure out how we’re going to win the next one.”

Ms. Bobert was early and vocal in promoting Mr. Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

For some Colorado Republicans, the primary contest for her seat has become a proxy battle in the party’s ongoing conflict between an old guard of politicians and donors and the grassroots right-wing activists who have dominated his state and county organizations — a race in which the denial of the 2020 election is a major dividing line.

Others simply worry that Ms. Bobert could easily lose to Mr. Frisch, a self-described conservative Democrat. “We all know what happened last cycle,” said Bobby Daniel, a Mesa County commissioner who supported Ms. Bobert last year and is now supporting Mr. Hurd. “There wasn’t much room for error.”

Mr. Frisch’s near victory was a surprise in a race that few in either party expected to be competitive. “We were all surprised,” Mr. Frisch recalled. His campaign essentially ran out of money two weeks before the election, so his mode was “just me putting another two thousand miles on the truck,” he said.

He won’t have that problem this year. Mr. Frisch and other Democratic groups have already set aside $1.2 million in advertising for the race — more than any other 2024 race so far and more than 100 times what Republicans have spent in the district, according to Ad Impact, a media monitoring company.

Drew Sexton, Ms. Bobert’s campaign manager, noted that her campaign last year spent little time trying to shape voters’ impressions of Mr. Fries and argued that 2024 would be a different contest.

“A lot of people participated in the midterms, whether it was apathy or the belief that there was a red wave and they didn’t need to participate, or just the fact that President Trump wasn’t at the top of the ticket. ” he said. “These people will come back in droves in this circle.”

On the stump, Ms Bobert has worked hard to show supporters she does not take their vote for granted. In her speech at the Montezuma County dinner, she had only one round of applause for the Biden family’s investigation and had plenty of details about water policy. There was also repentance.

“You deserve a heartfelt, humble apology from me,” he told the crowd.

Many of her supporters have accepted the apology, if not unconditionally. “Lauren made it harder on herself,” said Kathy Elmond, secretary of the Ouray County Republican Party, who has supported Ms. Bobert since her first campaign. “But I see it as a Christian.” He recalled the passage from the Gospel of John in which Jesus admonishes a crowd not to stone an adulterous woman: “Let him who is without sin among you cast a stone at her first.”

But Ms. Elmond pointed out that this was not the end of the story. “End with ‘And sin no more,'” he said.

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