The husband and wife duo who accidentally caused the midterms’ biggest upset

Democrats in Pueblo County might unseat the biggest firebrand in the House, and they did it without the help national Democrats, Eric Garcia reports

Tuesday 15 November 2022 15:29 GMT
(Getty Images)

It was one of the biggest shocks of the 2022 midterms. When the so-called “red wave” receded and it became clear that Republicans wouldn’t sweep statehouses and seats in Congress, an unlikely political upset was playing out in western Colorado.

As election night unfolded, Rep Lauren Boebert, the Maga flamethrower who represents Colorado’s 3rd District, suddenly found herself in the fight of her political life.

Now a full week after Election Day, Ms Boebert’s race remains uncalled – an unthinkable outcome for the conservative firebrand who was expected to cruise to reelection.

If Ms Boebert ultimately goes down, Democrats may have a husband-and-wife political duo in Colorado to thank for flipping the seat blue.

Bri Buentello’s enthusiasm was apparent as she spoke to The Independent on Thursday about the razor-thin margin between Ms Boebert and her Democratic challenger Adam Frisch.

The former state legislator from Pueblo County, Colorado, described how labour unions and the work of local elected officials, including her husband, state Senator Nick Hinrichsen, contributed to the close race.

“That’s why Pueblo County stayed blue in what was expected to be a wave Republican year, and evern after big Republican money flooded into the district ostensibly trying to buy our votes,” she told The Independent.

“Results matter. We’re a blue-collar town, a hard-working town. And people can tell the difference between work horses and show horses really quick,” Nick Hinrichsen told The Independent. “There’s an expectation that you produce results pretty soon and I think that people, we’re dealing with a lot. We’re still dealing with the crisis with the war in Ukraine. Some of the supply chain problems and inflation that correlate with that. People want results more than anything.”

Bri Buentello and Nick Hinrichsen (Bri Buentello)

Despite their differences, the couple were part of a coalition of Democratic leaders and activists who turned up the heat on the Republican congresswoman.

Still, the race has yet to be called. And since Election Day, Ms Boebert has taken a slight lead. As of Friday, Ms Boebert had a lead of 1,122 in the 3rd District. But if Ms Boebert ends up leaving Washington, Pueblo County will be a major factor; as of Friday, 53.2 per cent of the county voted for her Democratic opponent Adam Frisch.

Ms Boebert rose to prominence as the owner of Shooter’s Grill in Rifle, where waitresses carried handguns. In 2020, she beat Representative Scott Tipton in the Republican primary before securing the seat in the general election. Since then, she’s made a name for herself as a right-wing bomb-thrower who received national media attention, and conservative accolades.

Mr Hinrichsen said that Ms Boebert’s actions during the January 6 riot angered many people in her district, given the area’s large military veteran community. During the January 6 riot, Ms Boebert tweeted: “The speaker has been removed from the chambers.”

“We take our democratic republican form of governments as sacred,” he said. “I think after January 6, there was sort of a real, you know there was an energy behind organising locally and getting some change.”

Ms Boebert continued to court controversy when she made a joke about Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who is Muslim and wears a head covering, potentially blowing up the Capitol. Ms Boebert later apologised, but not after receiving swift condemnation from Ms Omar and many other Democrats.

Perhaps most notably, Ms Boebert also interrupted President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address when he was discussing health complications veterans suffered from burn pits and how his son Beau, who served in the military, might have died of cancer because of them.

Adam Frisch (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“If Boebert had run as a standard-issue Republican,” Laura Chapin, a Democratic strategist based in Colorado, told The Independent, “this wouldn’t have been close. She decided she wanted to be a celebrity. She wanted to be a celebrity rather than actually work with the district.”

Plans have been in motion to unseat Ms Boebert since she first won the election.

“People are, they’re naturally skeptical, and with good reason, of people who overpromise and under-deliver,” Mr Hinrichsen said. “And when you’re just talking to them through a TV screen or only going to events that your supporters can gain access to and you’re putting on an elaborate show, people become very skeptical, very quickly.”

Midterms: What happened?

Leaders in the district, specifically in Pueblo, benefited from not letting internecine fights get in the way of trying to defeat Ms Boebert. In the Democratic primary, Mr Frisch squared off against Sol Sandoval, a respected community activist.

“Adam immediately hired her as part of her campaign staff and Sol said, all right we have to be one team,” Mr Hinrichsen said. “Sol might as well be everybody in Colorado’s aunt. When she says Adam is looking out for you, you know to trust.”

But misperceptions meant that national Democrats stayed out of the race.

“Everybody stayed out because everybody thought it was as a gimme seat for Republicans,” Ms Chapin said. “In a seat where Republicans just kind of counted on themselves turning out and they didn’t, that was to Frisch’s advantage.”

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., with her husband, Jayson Boebert, in black hat, talk with supporters during an election night party, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Grand Junction, Colo. (Christopher Tomlinson/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP)

Leaders on the ground in Pueblo County agreed that national Democrats had written off the race.

“No national anybody was touching that race. Everybody had counted Adam out early on and I understand why,” Tisha Mauro, who won her race for the state legislature, told The Independent. “They hadn’t met him or spoke with him.”

Ms Mauro said that Mr Frisch might have benefited from outside help from national groups.

“He was barely a blip on the screen and here we are three days after the elections are over and he’s holding tough,” she said. “I think whatever, win or lose, he’s a winner but I think for sure, with a little bit of help toward the end from the national, might make the difference.

But Mr Hinrichsen, the state senator and Ms Buentello’s husband, said if national aid comes, it should follow the lead of local leadership.

“I think help is always welcome. But one of the things we’ve learned in my campaign, and I think in the Frisch campaign is that national groups and national leaders need to follow local leaders. Not the other way around,” he said. “If Washington DC were to come in and say we’ve got a person and we’re going to do everything. But if the community rallies around our person and Washington gets behind the community. That’s a different story.”

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