On a bright October morning, with a gun on her hip and a Donald Trump “45” hat on her head, Lauren Boebert rolls up in a large SUV to a small park in the tiny western Colorado town of Collbran.
She connects a phone to her loudspeaker and kicks off a hand-picked playlist with a hard-rock rendition of the national anthem turned way, way up. Nodding her head and mouthing the lyrics, a fired-up Boebert sets out to meet with voters who see in her the future of the state’s GOP.
“We’ve had the discussion of should we sell? Move out of the state? Because it has gotten so liberal,” says Becky Hittle, a local rancher and Boebert supporter. “Someone like her absolutely gives us hope.”
Boebert upset longtime 3rd Congressional District Rep. Scott Tipton in the June primary, and supporter Kris Melnikoff says that was a positive step because Tipton was “not quite enough” of a strong conservative.
“I don’t think you can be too far to the right,” says Melnikoff, holding a “Recall Jared Polis” petition.
Boebert is about as conservative as they come. The Trump-loving political newcomer got into this race because, she’s said, she had concerns about the leadership of Tipton, who is the co-chair of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in Colorado.
She’s far from the first far-right candidate for high office here, but unlike, say, Tom Tancredo or Justin Everett, Boebert is a candidate forged in the Trump era, who has consistently mirrored some of the most controversial characteristics of the president: In person and on Twitter, she has discounted public health guidance in the pandemic, celebrated attacks on the free press and perpetuated, without evidence, the claim that Democrats are trying to steal the election.
Matt Soper, a soft-spoken and firmly conservative state representative from Delta, says he’s never seen a politician like Boebert.
“Wherever she goes, even what should be a small event, will still have 100 people show up,” says Soper, who introduced her at a recent rally in Palisade. “I’ve been involved in local politics here for well over 20 years, and I’ve never seen political activism like this.”
About 700 people live in Collbran. It’s nearly an hour out from Grand Junction, tucked in the Plateau Valley, many miles of winding, scenic roadway removed from the interstate. And yet, by the time Boebert takes the mic around noon to give a stump speech about freedom and guns and oil drilling and socialism, at least 75 people, many in Trump hats, are there to listen.
Soper calls her a “rock star.” At the meet-and-greet, she autographs a sign for a supporter. She chats with Becky Hittle’s young daughters, who idolize her. She puts her hand on the chest of a man in a neck brace and prays for him.
Prayer is a big part of this campaign. Boebert and her right-hand woman, longtime church friend Kristi Kirkpatrick, have racked up about 28,000 miles of driving for this campaign, and when asked how they spend that time, the first thing Kirkpatrick says is, “We pray.”
Last year, Kirkpatrick says, “Lauren called me and said, ‘Will you pray with me?’ … She said, ‘I think I’m going to run for Congress.”
Soon after the campaign started, the public found out just how far to the right Boebert is. She rallied with members of extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and American Patriots III%. ABC News recently found that Sherronna Bishop — a former top aide to Boebert who, the campaign said, is no longer on staff — had been openly supportive of the Proud Boys.
Boebert has said she’s not a believer in QAnon, but the month before the primary, she said of the fast-spreading tangle of conspiracy theories, “I hope that this is real. … Because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values.”
Many Colorado Republicans in swing races are attempting to distance themselves from Donald Trump, largely by avoiding mentioning or even talking about the president. Even U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who endorsed Trump long ago, would not directly answer whether he is proud of the president when asked at a debate earlier this month.
“That’s unfortunate,” Boebert says about other politicians’ tiptoeing.
She has been a proud and outspoken supporter of the president throughout her campaign — and he has embraced her since her primary upset. Her race against Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush is viewed as competitive by political forecasters, with FiveThirtyEight giving Boebert a 62% chance of winning as of Tuesday.
In an interview with The Denver Post in Collbran, Boebert describes a call with Trump, who, she says, was very excited about Boebert’s restaurant, Shooters Grill in the town of Rifle.
“‘So tell me, do they really carry real guns in the restaurant?’” she says, quoting the president. “He was like, ‘Melania, do you believe this? It’s real guns!’”
The millennial candidate’s surprise emergence as the GOP nominee to represent a district covering about half of Colorado’s geographic area, to hear Democrats tell it, is both a gift and a nightmare. Her relative inexperience, lack of name recognition and far-right views has led them to believe they stand a much better chance of flipping the seat blue than they would if Tipton were still around.
She also very much scares Democrats.
“So much of what she has said and done, and then reaffirmed — not only QAnon, but a lot of it — are exactly where if you thought she had a misstep, well, no. She does mean to say it that way. She does represent that. She is part of what we see in this country that is alarming,” says Pueblo Democrat Leroy Garcia, president of the Colorado state Senate.
“It’s unquestionably extreme, dangerous and, I would argue, irresponsible,” he adds. “For her to be so comfortable with embracing that kind of tone is downright scary.”
Soper says he believes that the Boebert the public sees on the campaign trail would, to some degree, transform in Washington, D.C.
Asked about criticisms of Boebert as extreme, Soper says, “I’m not too worried about that. I can tell you from serving in the state House of Representatives, the office does start to make you. When you’re first running, you can say and do things to get elected, and it’s not that it’s not true to yourself, but once you get into office, you realize that public policy is nuanced, there’s more at stake.”
Many said the same thing about Trump in 2016, but, in rhetoric and on policy, he is as president very much the person he was as a presidential candidate.
And Boebert has all along vowed to stand with Trump and work to execute his vision for the country. Trump, campaigning by phone for Boebert this month, called her “an incredible person.”
“We need Lauren Boebert in Congress,” he said.
The voters in Collbran say they’re supporting her precisely because they believe she will not moderate her positions.
Seated on a pickup truck with a Trump decal and Recall Polis sign, Glen Denton says, of other Republicans, “They tell you what you want to hear, then do what they want to do. (With Boebert), what you see is what you get.”
Boebert’s positions, and especially her QAnon comments, have earned her significant media scrutiny, and she has often complained about how she is covered. She’s shied away from that scrutiny in general as Election Day approaches. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel wrote that Boebert “stonewalled the Sentinel’s editorial board and eluded virtually all” of their questioning, and she declined to meet with The Post’s editorial board.
Taylor Rhodes, who directs Rocky Mountain Gun Owners — an organization that has backed ultra-conservative state lawmakers and worked to unseat moderate Republicans — is particularly excited about Boebert. She got media attention in 2019 for open-carrying a Glock to a Beto O’Rourke rally in Aurora and challenging the then-presidential candidate’s proposal to confiscate assault-style weapons.
As Republicans reckon with profound electoral losses in Colorado — and may soon face more — Boebert offers some hope, Rhodes says.
“If she is to win, I think she plays a major part” in rebuilding the Colorado GOP, he says. “There’s a fundraising aspect to it, a momentum aspect to it, a massive aspect to it — that we can win. In 2016, the Democrats were so gung ho that Hillary was going to win that they didn’t show up. We, a lot of the time, have Republicans saying, ‘Heck, we’re gonna lose Colorado.’ If we can win (Boebert’s race), it allows we, as conservatives, to make people realize we can win these races.”
Mitsch Bush’s campaign, in a statement provided to The Post, called Boebert “dangerous and disqualifying.” But some of the very same qualities that the Mitsch Bush campaign describes as disturbing are what make her so appealing to many Republican voters, theorizes Soper.
For instance, Boebert made headlines earlier this year for openly defying the governor’s orders by opening her Rifle restaurant during the pandemic, while that was still prohibited. She’s maskless on the trail.
Soper says he has observed that in western Colorado, “generally the feeling is, if you wear a mask, you’re a (Democratic Gov. Jared) Polis supporter. If you don’t wear a mask, you’re a true patriot.”
“It’s not so much about wearing masks. It’s about being told that you have to wear a mask,” says Soper, who notes that he personally believes in mask-wearing. “… Lauren has really tapped that. She’s a fiercely independent patriot, and there’s a lot of people who like that.”
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