Boebert’s District Flip

As she seeks reelection in a redder district, her current district stays Leans Republican in ratings

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KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— Lightning rod U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R, CO-3) announced over the holidays that she would seek reelection in a redder, open seat on the other side of the state.

— The district she leaves behind, CO-3, remains rated as Leans Republican.

— A federal judge accepted a redrawn Georgia congressional map recently, setting up Republicans to maintain their 9-5 edge in the state’s congressional delegation.

Boebert’s switcheroo

In the 2022 House cycle, Colorado produced the two closest wins for either side. For Democrats, the newly-created 8th District, a Joe Biden +5 seat just north of Denver, elected then-state Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D) by about 1,600 votes, or seven-tenths of a point. Moving west, in the geographically vast 3rd District, Republican Lauren Boebert, known as a pro-Trump provocateur, held her Donald Trump +8 seat by just over 500 votes. Looking to 2024, the Crystal Ball began these districts as leaning towards their respective parties—Biden seems likely to carry the 8th again while coming up several points short in the 3rd.

But over the holiday break, Boebert threw the political world something of a curveball. Instead of seeking reelection in her current district, she announced that she’ll instead run in the 4th District, which, visually, takes up most of the eastern part of the state. While the Trump-won 3rd District is, on occasion, amenable to Democrats—aside from its close House result in 2022, Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) carried it—the 4th is the reddest district in the state, at Trump +19.

This type of district shopping is not unprecedented, although it is rare for incumbents to change districts for reasons other than redistricting. In 2018, Reps. Pete Sessions and Darrell Issa were long-serving Republicans who found themselves in Romney-to-Clinton districts. In the Dallas area, Sessions went on to lose to now-Rep. Colin Allred (D, TX-32) while, in Southern California, Issa opted to retire. But in 2020, both Republicans staged comebacks in redder districts and returned to Congress. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a South Florida Republican, did something more comparable to what Boebert is doing now. Diaz-Balart, a popular incumbent from a well-known local family, was held to a single-digit margin in the then-25th District in 2008. In 2010, his older brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, retired one district over, in the redder and more ethnically Cuban 21st District, and the younger Diaz-Balart won the seat without opposition (he now represents the 26th District under the current map). But Diaz-Balart’s switch was essentially a matter of moving to a district across the street—not to the other side of the state.

Boebert’s move could be interpreted as an admission that she would have lost reelection in the 3rd—or at least evidence that she realized that her campaign would be more competitive than it should be considering the partisan lean of her district. Her 2022 opponent, former Aspen City Council member Adam Frisch (D), has been perpetually in campaign mode—shortly after the midterm results were finalized, he announced that he would seek a rematch.

There were also some signs that Frisch would be better-positioned in his second go-around. In 2022, he narrowly prevailed in a contested primary and was clearly outspent in the general election. Though he still faces several other candidates in the 2024 primary, Frisch is entering the cycle with more institutional support: during 2023, he lapped Boebert in fundraising and ended the year with an endorsement from the Blue Dog Coalition.

For her part, the 2023 calendar year was hardly ideal for the incumbent. In September, reporting surfaced that Boebert, well-known for her combative persona, was trying to soften some of her sharper edges, at least when making appearances back in her district. But shortly afterwards, Boebert was roundly mocked when she, along with her date, were kicked out of a Beetlejuice performance.

Still, even with the obvious gulf in candidate quality, we held our rating for CO-3 at Leans Republican, as a presidential election could have provided some cover for Boebert. CO-3 is about a point redder than ME-2, which was the most pro-Trump district that sent a Democrat to the House in the last presidential election. Overcoming that type of polarization as a non-incumbent would be quite a feat for Frisch to pull off.

As it was, Boebert already had primary opposition in the 3rd District, so we’ll see who Republicans end up nominating. With Boebert out, some potential contenders who had planned on sitting out the race, or even those who’d already endorsed against her, could give the race a look.

We’d assume most other GOP prospects would make for more formidable general election candidates than Boebert—which would be, in turn, bad news for Frisch—but a notable exception could be former state Rep. Ron Hanks. A far-right election denier, Hanks lost the 2022 Senate primary to Joe O’Dea, who campaigned as more of a moderate but still lost by nearly 15 points statewide to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). While O’Dea went on to carry the 3rd District by just a point over Bennet, it seems doubtful that Hanks would have been able to carry it. Perhaps national Democrats will get involved in this primary, as they did in other places last cycle, including unsuccessfully trying to help Hanks beat O’Dea for the Senate nomination. But for now, we’re holding our rating as-is.

Even before the developments of the holiday break, Republicans had a crowded primary in the 4th District. With the retirement of five-term Rep. Ken Buck (R, CO-4), originally a Tea Party Republican who has since become better known for some of his idiosyncratic stances, about half a dozen Republicans were already in the race before Boebert’s switch. Despite her national profile, some candidates who have deeper roots in the district don’t sound willing to roll over for her.

We have little doubt that CO-4 will stay in GOP hands, though it could come down to a question of margin. Boebert, if she makes it to the general election, would probably not be able to match the 61%-37% Buck got in 2022. Her result may be more akin to the 55%-43% that Heidi Ganahl, the GOP’s 2022 gubernatorial nominee who lost to Polis in a landslide, got in the district.

One county to watch, both in the primary and general, is Douglas County. Just south of Denver, it accounts for nearly half of CO-4’s population. Though Trump carried this highly college-educated county in 2020 by 7 points, it has steadily shifted left in recent cycles and does not seem like fertile ground for Boebert’s anti-establishment type of Republicanism. One additional wrinkle is that Colorado has a convention component built into its nomination system, although candidates can also submit 1,500 signatures to get onto the ballot, as Jeff Singer at Daily Kos Elections describes. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R, LA-4) endorsed Boebert for her new district on Wednesday, giving her leadership’s stamp of approval for her switch.

Besides Boebert’s decision, there was one other congressional development over the holidays we wanted to mention.

In Georgia, a federal judge who ruled that the state must create an additional black-majority district in the Atlanta area signed off on the Republican-controlled state legislature’s remedial map, which creates the required new district but does so in a way that is designed to preserve the GOP’s 9-5 edge in the state’s congressional delegation. We examined the new map in depth before the holidays, so please refer back to that piece for details. One bit of housekeeping, though: Under the current lines, Rep. Rich McCormick (R, GA-6) holds a Safe Republican district and Rep. Lucy McBath (D, GA-7) holds a Safe Democratic district. Under the new map, McCormick’s district is renumbered as GA-7 and runs north of Atlanta, and McBath will be running in the new GA-6 in the western Atlanta area (which is the district mandated by the redraw). So, technically, GA-7 moves from Safe Democratic to Safe Republican and GA-6 moves from Safe Republican to Safe Democratic, but because the changes just cancel each other out, the new map doesn’t change the overall math in our House ratings.