Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Rep. Lauren Boebert seemed to be turning things around. After squeaking out a surprisingly narrow victory in a Republican district last year, the Trump-loving firebrand spent the August recess at home in her Colorado district winning back trust. She sat for interviews with hometown newspapers, met with local officials to discuss issues like water and health care, and helped combat veterans receive the medals they’d been awarded. Given her penchant for provocative statements that made national news, Colorado Republicans were pleasantly surprised.

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Then it all came undone. In mid-September, the Denver Post reported that Boebert had been escorted out of a local performance of Beetlejuice. The venue accused her of vaping, recording the show, and otherwise disturbing the performance. After her office denied that she had been vaping, video clips proved that she had been, and that she and her date had also been groping each other. 

Boebert apologized, but damage control may prove difficult. Now, in addition to another challenge from the Democrat who came close to unseating her in 2022, Boebert may also face a competitive primary. Since the September incident, Republican challenger Jeff Hurd has caught the attention of some prominent Colorado Republicans looking for an alternative. 

“I am proud to endorse Jeff Hurd for U.S. Congress for the 3rd district,” says former Colorado Governor Bill Owens, the last Republican to lead the state, in a statement provided exclusively to TIME. “Jeff is a man of character. He is a hardworking, smart and sincere leader who will deliver for the district.” 

The endorsement from Owens, who served from 1999 until 2007, is the most prominent of a handful of Republican officials who have recently announced their support for Hurd, with several citing Boebert’s Beetlejuice scandal as the moment that pushed them over the edge.

“Just after the congresswoman’s issues at the theater, I just decided that we had to do something different,” says Delta County Commissioner Don Suppes, who knew of Hurd but didn’t know him personally before endorsing him this month. “So I started reaching out and trying to make sure that we had the right person in that seat for the next election.”

Suppes says many people have reached out to him to thank him for going public with his endorsement. 

In neighboring Mesa County, many folks “love Lauren’s spunk and believe Congress needs a little spit and vinegar,” County Commissioner Cody Davis wrote in an email to TIME. But he says the September incident went too far. 

“I’ve defended Lauren for [two-and-a-half] years now, hoping that things would improve and she’d become a more effective leader,” Davis wrote. “I think she was about to round that corner, and I was complimentary of that, but what she did at Beetlejuice was altogether indefensible.”

Davis says he’s received some criticism from Republicans for refusing to forgive Boebert, but he insists character matters in politics. Fellow Mesa County Commissioner Bobbie Daniel agrees, adding that Boebert’s performance in the county last year raises questions about her ability to hold on to the seat in 2024. 

“In the previous election cycle, I received over [4,000] more votes than the sitting Congressional Representative,” Daniel wrote in an email to TIME. “This showed that conservatives are voting, and thousands did not vote for the incumbent; that’s a problem.”

Daniel also attributed her decision to endorse Hurd to Boebert’s “latest round of self-inflicted wounds.” “We have to face the fact we can’t keep going on this trajectory and keep this seat,” she said.

Drew Sexton, Boebert’s campaign manager, says in a statement that Boebert “has the support of grassroots conservatives and 3rd District voters because they’ve seen the substantive work she’s doing for them in Congress.

“From leading the fight to impeach Joe Biden to the seven bills on local 3rd District issues like water and rural economic development she’s gotten passed through at least a House committee, voters know Rep. Boebert is producing results,” Sexton adds. “Our campaign is continuing to focus on substantive 3rd District issues and her track record of legislative wins, which is why Coloradans will re-elect her in 2024.”

Hurd, an attorney and married father of five, has tried to focus his campaign on getting results for Coloradans, and not Boebert’s behavior or her image. He spends his days driving across the district, which is bigger than the state of Pennsylvania, meeting with locals of both parties and trying to earn endorsements and build up his name-recognition. Sometimes they mention the congresswoman, but Hurd says he typically tries to steer the conversation back to what they want their representative to do for them. 

Hurd is campaigning as something of an anti-Boebert, stressing that he would work across the aisle on water and agriculture issues in a way that the incumbent can’t. But he also admits that what happened in the theater in Denver last month is impossible to ignore.

“I think that it’s one of a number of things that people have seen as a spark,” Hurd says. “And that I think, for a number of people, that was the last straw.” 

The money in the race speaks to the strong reaction Boebert has elicited from people both in the district and around the country. Adam Frisch, the Democratic nominee in 2022 and the frontrunner in next year’s Democratic primary, brought in nearly $3.4 million in the third quarter, more than any other non-incumbent candidate in the country. Boebert, meanwhile, raised just under $854,000 during that period, while Hurd, who entered the race halfway through the quarter in August, raised $412,000. 

“He was on a path to probably only raising maybe $100,000,” says State Rep. Matt Soper, a Republican who represents part of the Western Slope in Boebert’s district. “And he tops $400,000 all because of Beetlejuice. Because people once again were reminded of the fact that we don’t really want our member of Congress making international news.” 

Soper says he talks to both Boebert and Hurd regularly, and is not planning to endorse in the race to preserve his relationship with the winner. He was among the Republican officials who received a call from Boebert after the September incident. 

“She was very, very apologetic,” he says. “She talked about the stresses of her divorce that was almost finalized at that time and the excitement of going on a first date for the first time in years.” 

Soper expects the Republican primary to be very close, but thinks Boebert will still win—just as long as she doesn’t make any more mistakes. 

“She has influence, and a lot of influence, in Washington,” Soper says. “Certainly she is one of the biggest fundraisers in the House Republican Conference. And I think the real question starts to become, ‘Will her colleagues who have really benefited from her, both as being a bomb-thrower and a fundraiser, come to her rescue in a primary?’” 

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