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In Boebert’s District, as Elsewhere, Democrats Surge into G.O.P. Primary

BASALT, Colo. – Claudia Cunningham had never voted Republican in her life. She swore she couldn’t or her father would turn over in his grave. But prior to Tuesday’s Colorado primary, she did the once unthinkable: registered as unaffiliated so she could vote against her congressman, Lauren Boebert, in the GOP primary.

So was Ward Hauenstein, the mayor of Aspen; Sara Sanderman, a schoolteacher from Glenwood Springs; Christopher Arndt, a writer and financier in Telluride; Gayle Frazzetta, a general practitioner in Montrose; and Karen Zink, a nurse practitioner south of Durango.

Driven by fears of extremism and concerns about what they see as an authoritarianism embodied in Ms. Boebert, thousands of Democrats in Colorado’s sprawling Third Congressional District have rushed to back her Republican challenger, Senator Don Coram. Their goal is not to do what is best for Democrats, but to do what they think is best for democracy.

It’s a guess: Mr. Coram has raised about $226,000 in a late-start, largely unseen bid to evict a national figure who has brought in $5 million.

But as Mr. Arndt noted, anti-Trump Republicans have brushed aside major differences with liberal policy and voted for Democrats since 2016. It is time, he said, for the Democrats to return the favor and put the preservation of democracy above all other causes.

The crossover voters in Colorado are part of a broader trend of Democrats stepping in to try to push back the extremes of the GOP, in Georgia, North Carolina, Colorado, Utah and elsewhere.

“The center needs to rear its head again,” said Tom Morrison, a lifelong Democrat in rural Pitkin County who voted for Mr. Coram, not only in protest against Ms. Boebert, but also against what he calls a growing concern about the left-wing of his party. drive.

A nascent infrastructure is supporting the trend. The Country First Political Action Committee, founded by Representative Adam Kinzinger, an anti-Trump Republican from Illinois, has used text messages and online advertisements to oppose what the congressman has called the most “toxic” and partisan Republicans. Among them are 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 resisting pressure. Trump to “find” the votes to nullify President Biden’s victory there.

In Utah, 57 percent of delegates to the state’s Democratic convention, including Jenny Wilson, the mayor of Salt Lake City and the state’s most powerful Democrat, did not support a Democrat in a strongly Republican state, but supported Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and an anti-Trump Republican. He is running an uphill independent campaign against Senator Mike Lee, a Republican who initially worked to challenge Mr. Biden’s victory.

In Colorado, a constellation of small political groups has emerged to oppose Ms. Boebert’s re-election ahead of next week’s primaries, 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, a prosperous Republican developer who helped establish the mega ski resort of Snowmass in the 1970s.

“Jan. 6 was the breaking point for me,” said Mr. Light. “With the National Party I got nowhere, so I was behind Don Coram.”

Proponents of the strategy point to some success stories. In 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 passed the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff with just over 27,000 votes.

More than 5,400 early or absent votes cast in western North Carolina primaries, including Mr. Cawthorn, also came from Democrats who had voted in their party’s primaries two years earlier. mr. Cawthorn lost by less than 1,500.

In Colorado, voters can vote in the Republican primaries if they are registered with the party or unaffiliated. In Ms. Boebert’s district, Democratic Party officials counted about 3,700 more disaffiliated voters in the Republican primary this year compared to 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 celebrities like Hillary Clinton and Marian Wright Edelman before “unsubscribing” from working for Mr. Coram in January, said the number of independents from both parties mobilized against Ms. Boebert was “grossly underestimated”.”

Ms Boebert’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Tuesday she remains a priceless favorite.

Hardly anyone would say that the influx of Democratic voters into this year’s Republican primary has been driven by an organized effort.

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

Some Democratic officials have tried to halt the effort, partly fearing that Mr. Coram will be the harder Republican to beat in November, and partly that the newly resigned members may not come back. dr. Frazzetta has emailed patients, left literature in her office, and even pressured the compounding pharmacies she works with to consider voting in the Republican primary. Among the deluge of positive response was one sternly negative response, she said, from a local Democratic Party official.

A new map has made the district more Republican, but Mr. Trump won the old district with 52 percent of the vote in 2020, not a stunning total. Judy Wender, an Aspen Democrat who has resisted pleas from friends to exclude themselves, said there was good reason to vote in the Democratic primary next week: There will be three very different Democrats on the ballot, and the right ones. could be a threat to Mrs. Boobert in the fall.

Howard Wallach, a retired Brooklyn high school teacher who leads the Pitkin County Democratic Party with his wife Betty, also disapproved. The Republican primary vote includes several candidates from Ms. Boebert’s wing of the party, including a Senate candidate, State Senator Ron Hanks, who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6; a candidate for Secretary of State, Tina Peters, who was indicted in March on 10 charges related to allegations that she had tampered with election equipment after the 2020 election; and a candidate for governor, Greg Lopez, who has supported Ms. Peters’ false election claims, saying: he would pardon her if he was elected

Mr. Wallach asked: Will these voters who are new to Republican politics be willing to vote in those races?

“They are desperate,” he said of the newly independent voters. “They are crazy.”

Several Democrats said the attitude is one of the reasons the nation is at this crossroads, with two opposing camps, and unwilling to find common ground in the center. The anger and fear that Mr. Trump and his followers such as Ms. Boebert have fueled may have “fertilized the ground for tyranny,” as Jackie Merrill, a recently retired Democrat, put it, but the Democrats have played a part.

“Progressive Democrats continue to believe that if only they can come to power, they can take the country towards all these liberal goals,” Mr Morrison said. “And they can’t.”

In a sense, Mrs. Boebert is a special case for the cause of “out-of-body experience”. Her primary victory with 9,873 votes two years ago over Republican regular Scott Tipton shocked voters here. If many western Coloradoans didn’t know the restaurant owner then, they all know now.

However, she actively opposed the bipartisan infrastructure law recently she took credit for some of her projectsand on Wednesday she led a group of House hardliners who denounced: Senate Compromise Act on Weapons Safety

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

Above all, many Democrats and Republicans say, the sprawling district needs help, and Ms. Boebert shows no inclination to take her job seriously. The San Luis Valley in the south has been parched by drought. The Colorado River is on the back burner. Income inequality between Aspen and Telluride and the struggling ranch lands nearby has exacerbated housing prices and labor shortages.

“We are upside down,” said Mr Hauenstein, the mayor of Aspen, where… the median rent list is $22,500 per month – “no typo,” as The Colorado Sun put it.

Of course, Mrs. Boebert has devoted fans. Her greatest focal point is not in her native Garfield County, 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 vote, even as his wife, Susan, disapproved of her congressman’s lack of a “filter.”

At Mrs. Boebert’s restaurant, Shooters Grill, on the picturesque main drag of Rifle, Colo., “Trump Won” and “Drill Baby Drill” t-shirts are on sale, while waitresses serve food with pistols on their hips. A patron called Ms. Boebert “a good response to AOC” (short for Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Liberal Democrat) before a waitress led this reporter away from the building.

Regardless of the outcome, however, several Democrats said their decisions to vote in the Republican primaries — and the backlash they faced from old friends — had convinced them that the form of political activism would have to change if a center appeared again.

“All that dark mumbling about what would happen if you pulled out of the Democrats,” Ms Cunningham said in surprise. “There is a certain amount of disbelief in what is happening among normal people. We have to get over that.”

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