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'You can't write her political obituary': Boebert walks tightrope to stay in Congress

Rep. Lauren Boebert is walking the narrowest of tightropes as she campaigns to remain in Congress. But operatives warn against writing her off just yet.

The Colorado Republican has established a reputation as a fiery ally of former President Donald Trump with a penchant for theatrics on Capitol Hill. That brand almost caught up with her in 2022, when she won reelection by just 546 votes in the state's 3rd Congressional District, which hadn't elected a Democrat to the House of Representatives since 2008.

The headwinds she's facing have grown only stronger since then: Video of her groping a date at a public theatrical performance went viral, puncturing her image as a Christian conservative, and family drama, including her son's arrest, have emerged as distractions.

Boebert decided to seek "redder" pastures by running this year in the neighboring 4th Congressional District to replace outgoing Rep. Ken Buck, a fellow Republican but no close ally. The strategy drew howls of carpetbagging and was jarred by Buck's sudden announcement that he'll retire next week instead of at the end of his term in January, setting up a special election to serve the final months of his term on June 25, the same day as the regularly scheduled primary.

Boebert is not running in the special election, but she is running in the primary -- waging the risky bet that voters will pick two separate candidates on their two ballots that day.

But she still brings with her a bulging war chest and high name recognition, on top of running against a crowded field of more establishment candidates to split up the anti-Boebert vote this November.

MORE: Rep. Ken Buck to leave Congress next week, shrinking GOP's razor-thin majority

"You can't write her political obituary, in my opinion," said longtime Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli, who is not aligned with any candidate in the race.

Boebert's electoral future, already the focus of intense speculation after she announced plans to jump districts, was thrown into further question this week when Buck announced his expedited retirement, which triggered the special election.

Boebert, who would not be able to run in the special election without giving up her current seat, opted to stay put and run only in the primary. The decision helped avoid a vacancy that could've stressed Republicans already-microscopic majority, but it does offer her opponents for the regularly scheduled primary an opportunity to gain a leg up.

The state party will pick a nominee at a convention to run in the special election, offering that candidate a likely boost in attention and fundraising and, thus, a boost in the regular primary that same day. Meanwhile, it'll leave Boebert's electoral future in the hands of voters who'll have to discern the differences between the overall races and the specific ballots, and then choose to support two different candidates on the same day.

"One of these candidates is going to get a little bit of a boost coming out of there," former Colorado Republican Party Chair Dick Wadhams said of the nominating convention. "That person's name will be the Republican nominee on the special election ballot. And then you've got all these five or six people on the primary ballot that day."

The structural headwinds only compound on what observers said was damage to her personal brand, which was estimated to be verging on toxic in the 3rd Congressional District.

PHOTO: Rep. Lauren Boebert arrives for President Joe Biden's State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Mar. 7, 2024, in Washington. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Rep. Lauren Boebert arrives for President Joe Biden's State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Mar. 7, 2024, in Washington. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Her opponents have taken notice, with one asking her at a debate in January to define "carpetbagger."

"Her personal brand, it is terrible. Between not only the particular problem in the 4th [Congressional District], that is she's a carpetbagger, but what she brings over with her is just terrible. Under no normal conditions would she be elected," Ciruli said.

Boebert is not shying away from her move, saying earlier this year she doesn't expect a "coronation" in her new district, while leaning into her outsider message of taking conservatives' fight against the establishment to the halls of Congress.

In a video announcement saying she wouldn't run in the special election, she lambasted Buck's maneuver as "a gift to the uniparty" and the product of a "swampy backroom deal to try to rig an election."

Her campaign is committed to getting that message out, blitzing the district with campaign events to introduce her to a new voter base.

"Despite the Establishment's desperate efforts to confuse Coloradans by forcing a special election on the same day as the regular primary election, we know grassroots conservatives in the 4th District are energized and motivated to vote for Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, the Trump-endorsed, proven conservative in this race," said Boebert campaign manager Drew Sexton.

"It may take targeted educational efforts, but we have the resources and platform to turn out the vote for Congresswoman Boebert no matter what the system looks like."

Operatives assessed that message offers her the best chance at staying in Washington.

"She talks a lot about, 'I've been there. These other candidates are good people, but guess what, I'm the person who's been on the front line. I'm the fighter. I'm the one out there helping Donald Trump in Congress,' and I think that probably is as effective of a message as she can have. She also talks about, 'yeah, I moved to a new district, but the values of the fourth district are the same as the third district.' That's the best way she can handle it," Wadhams said.

"I think she's probably running as good of a campaign as you can, given that she's a carpetbagger in a new district and that she's got all these personal problems."

MORE: Lauren Boebert will switch congressional districts in 2024 reelection bid

In all, Boebert is running a playbook reminiscent of one that worked for one Republican outsider in 2016: Donald Trump.

Boebert, boosted by a small-dollar donor base fueled in part by her substantial name recognition, entered 2024 with a $1.3 million war chest that's magnitudes bigger than those of her rivals. That, along with strong appeal to the GOP's right flank, offers her a durable slice of the electorate in June, while the rest of the pie is being competed over by a crowded field of opponents.

"She's got the money, she's got universal name identification, she has several other people running, so there'll be a multi-candidate ballot. And she had initially Johnson's support, and now she has Trump's. And that's a Trump district," Ciruli said.

"Even though her personal brand is as low as you can go and damaged, she still would probably find a third of the vote," he added. "And in a multi-candidate field, we assume a third of the vote is going to give her the primary."

Still, the costs of falling short are high -- with bridges burned in the 3rd Congressional District on top of a bogged-down brand, a defeat in June would leave her with little recourse to be a player in Colorado politics.

"If she doesn't win this primary in June, I don't see how she has much of a political future in Colorado. She can't go back to the third district, which she basically abandoned. And she gave it her best shot in this new district, and she was rejected," Wadhams said of a hypothetical loss in June. "We'll see what happens."

'You can't write her political obituary': Boebert walks tightrope to stay in Congress originally appeared on abcnews.go.com