Five-term U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton unexpectedly found himself booted from office Tuesday night, conceding to an unconventional challenger in the Republican primary for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.
The Western Slope congressman’s defeat to Lauren Boebert, an outsider from Rifle who drew attention as the politically brash owner of a pro-gun restaurant called Shooters Grill, was the shock of the night.
“3rd District Republicans have decided who they want to run against the Democrats this November,” Tipton said in a statement at 9 p.m. “I want to congratulate Lauren Boebert and wish her and her supporters well.”
As of 11 p.m., Boebert was leading by more than 9 percentage points, 54.6% to 45.4%.
“I’m excited and eager to take this fight on to the Democrats and represent the people of the 3rd Congressional District, just like I’ve been promising them I would,” Boebert told The Denver Post.
The district’s next representative will be a woman one way or another: In the Democratic primary, former state lawmaker Diane Mitsch Bush — who lost against Tipton in 2018 — was declared the winner by the Associated Press just before 8 p.m. She was winning 61% of the vote to 39% for James Iacino, a Ridgway business owner, late Tuesday.
Mitsch Bush will now face Boebert in the Nov. 3 election.
Tipton’s loss is likely to upend the political dynamics for the fall race.
Boebert is an avid Second Amendment supporter who wears a gun on her hip, says she is pro-freedom, rails against socialism and vows to help “drain the swamp,” borrowing a favorite phrase of President Donald Trump — who nonetheless backed Tipton.
She drew attention in May when she decided to reopen her restaurant against state public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Garfield County suspended her food license after Boebert defied a cease-and-desist order.
Trump congratulated Boebert on her victory in a tweet Tuesday night.
The sprawling 3rd District swoops from northwest Colorado to the southeast plains, drawing together Grand Junction, Pueblo, many mountain towns and most of the San Luis Valley. While home to many areas considered friendly to Trump, the district already was expected to be competitive this fall — though political handicappers had given Tipton an advantage.
The primaries both pitted more establishment politicians against outsiders looking to shake things up, but the result was different in each.
“It’s an interesting race (on both sides) in that it’s mirroring a lot of the turbulence that we’re seeing at the national level,” said Paul DeBell, an assistant professor of political science at Fort Lewis College in Durango, before voting ended.
No recent public polling had gauged whether Tipton, 63, was vulnerable, but he had reliably won re-election since he took office in 2011.
Boebert, 33, challenged him from the right, though. During the campaign, she questioned whether he was conservative enough or had sufficiently supported Trump. Tipton’s campaign pushed back in mailers, noting the congressman from Cortez is a co-chair of the president’s re-election campaign.
“This the campaign that I wanted to run,” Boebert said. “I promised everyone from the beginning that I would do a lot more with a lot less, and I have done just that. I am very proud that we made this about job performance rather than personal attacks. I’m feeling very optimistic at this point.”
Meanwhile, in the other primary, the two Democratic hopefuls framed November’s election as a battle for the future of the country.
Mitsch Bush, 70, lost to Tipton by 8 percentage points two years ago — unexpectedly the closest congressional race in Colorado. She’s a former legislator, Routt County commissioner and professor who lives in Steamboat Springs, and she had hoped for a rematch against Tipton.
Now she’s getting a different race — one that’s likely to be watched closely beyond Colorado.