Colorado Democrats elevate divisive GOP candidate in race for Boebert seat

Democrats are looking to elevate a controversial candidate in the GOP primary for a House seat set to be vacated by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) in the hopes of flipping it in November.

A Democratic-aligned super PAC and Democratic candidate Adam Frisch’s campaign have aired ads in the GOP primary for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District either touting hard-line Republican candidate Ron Hanks as “too conservative” and tying him to former President Trump, or raising scrutiny on the establishment-backed Jeff Hurd.

The moves come as Democrats see Hanks, an election denier, as the weaker of the candidates heading into November and their best chance at flipping a red seat.

“It’s no surprise that the Democrats desperately want Ron Hanks to be the nominee because he would be a certain loser to Adam Frisch. There’s no doubt in my mind,” explained former state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams.

Hurd, Hanks and Colorado State Board of Education member Stephen Varela are considered the leading candidates among a handful of contenders vying for the Republican nomination in the western Colorado congressional district. They’re running for the seat since Boebert opted to run in a different district this cycle.

Rocky Mountain Values PAC, a liberal group, started airing advertisements last month using clips of Hanks speaking about his position on immigration, with the narrator in the ad at one point saying that “Ron Hanks and Donald Trump are just too conservative.” The ad also notes that both candidates were endorsed by the Colorado GOP.

Meanwhile, Frisch’s campaign more recently aired an ad about Hurd, claiming the candidate was “hiding,” “ducking Republican debates” and declining to say where he stood on several issues such as abortion, the Second Amendment and whom he voted for in the last few election cycles.

The strategy is apparently to elevate Hanks in the primary and make him sound like the more appealing conservative candidate while hurting Hurd’s chances. Democrats hope that Hanks’s controversial stances on issues like the 2020 election, which he maintains was stolen, will turn off moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters in November.

That has prompted Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a House GOP leadership-aligned super PAC, to air a last-minute ad of their own hitting Hanks.

“Why are liberals supporting Ron Hanks? They know they can count on him,” says the narrator of the 30-second ad, referring to the Democratic-aligned super PAC ads. The ad claims Hanks had an “anti-gun agenda” and “abandoned Trump.”

It’s an approach Democrats have used in the past, both in Colorado and in other parts of the country. Democrats sought to elevate Hanks during the Colorado Senate GOP primary in 2022, when he was running against mainstream candidate Joe O’Dea.

O’Dea ultimately won the GOP primary, later losing to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) in the general election. However, Hanks notably won the 3rd Congressional District during the primary.

Zack Roday, a partner at Ascent who managed O’Dea’s Senate campaign, said the tactic forced them to change their advertising in the home stretch of the GOP primary.

“This is the only play for CLF and others,” Roday said.

“With Joe O’Dea in 2022, we upped our spend, and we went instead of, unfortunately, a full contrast with Michael Bennet in the closing days of the June primary, we had to go on a contrast with Ron Hanks,” he added.

Republicans have argued that it’s hypocritical for the Democratic Party to brand itself as “pro-Democracy” while elevating someone who contests the 2020 election results and attended the Trump rally in Washington, D.C., on the day of the Capitol riot.

Still, some members of the GOP have differing thoughts on whether it could jeopardize the seat for them in November.

“I think it’s a really dirty tactic,” said Jon Kelly, Pitkin County GOP chair. “I think it really undermines any of the claims that Democrats have … when Democrats claim that certain candidates are extreme.”

Pueblo County GOP Chair Michelle Gray, who like other GOP county chairs is remaining neutral in the primary, expressed concern that Democrats’ involvement in the Republican primary could hurt the GOP’s chances of keeping the seat in November.

“If a voter here in Pueblo had a candidate in mind, and then they’re changing their mind based on these Democrat flyers that are coming out, yes … I do believe that it can affect the outcome of the race,” she said.

Both the super PAC and Frisch’s campaign have defended intervening in the Republican primary.

Amber Miller, a spokesperson for the Rocky Mountain Values PAC, said the super PAC got involved this cycle to set the record straight about Republicans’ choices in the district.

Rocky Mountain Values PAC “is run by Coloradans, who are very focused on defeating extreme Colorado Republicans, right, and ensuring voters in [the 3rd Congressional District] know the truth about who the two leading Republican candidates are for this open congressional seat,” she said.

She noted it was important for them to broadcast where candidates stood on issues or if they declined to say.

Frisch’s campaign, meanwhile, explained that they got involved in the Republican primary as a way to combat attacks Frisch was receiving from both candidates.

“There are two Republican candidates who can win the Republican Primary,” said Frisch campaign manager Camilo Vilaseca in a statement. “Ron Hanks is endorsed by the Republican Party and too extreme. Jeff Hurd is funded by corporate out-of-state interests, yet he continues to hide what he believes. I’m tired of watching Adam take shots from both of them. As far as I’m concerned, the general election has started.”

Vilaseca said the ads demonstrate why both GOP candidates “are the wrong choice” for Colorado’s 3rd District.

“Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, it’s crucial for CD-3 voters to know who they are voting for,” she added.

The congressional district, which includes the Western Slope and almost half of the state, has voted for Republicans in more recent years. Before that, it swung between Democrats and Republicans. Trump won the district in 2020 by 8 points.

Though the seat is favorable to Republicans, the party can’t take it for granted. The nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report rates the seat “lean Republican.”

Asked about some of the accusations in the super PAC ad regarding his debate attendance and his hedging on issues, Hurd argued that “the fact that [Democrats are] engaged in the primary, and they’re repeating some of the talking points that other Republicans in the primary are raising, just goes to show that they’re nervous about me in the general election.”

“I’m the one that had the political courage to enter the race when the odds seemed long,” he added. “And so I don’t really take a lot of credence from other competitors telling me what events I should be at and what events I shouldn’t be at, given that there are dozens and dozens of events that I attended well before they got in the race.”

Valera, the Colorado State Board of Education member, also criticized the Democratic interference, explaining he left the Democratic Party before becoming a Republican because of “a lot of these kind of dirty tactics and dirty politics.”

Hanks suggested he didn’t have a problem with Rocky Mountain Values airing ads on his behalf.

“I’m glad they’re not lying about me. Now, the Republicans, on the other hand, are lying about me. Isn’t that an ironic turn?” Hanks said, alluding to the CLF ad.

Hanks brushed off Republican concern over his candidacy. He affirmed he had attended the Washington, D.C., rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and didn’t believe President Biden had won the last election.

With little public polling done in the race, it’s unclear how much the ads will impact either candidate. Some Republicans like Dolores County GOP Chair John Funk say they don’t see a problem with the act, saying it’s protected by the First Amendment.

But Funk worries voters may not be savvy enough to understand the ads.

“The concern is that it — that we have an electorate that doesn’t know the facts,” Funk said.

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