Adam Frisch: How to Put a “Safe R” Seat Into Play
A former independent ran as a big-tent Democrat and came within just 546 votes of defeating Lauren Boebert in 2022 — all without a prayer from the pundits or a dime from the national party committees.
District: Colorado’s 3rd (CO-03)
Incumbent: Rep. Lauren Boebert (R)
Partisan Lean (PVI): R+7
Colorado’s 3rd congressional district spans much of the state’s western half and has been represented by MAGA torchbearer Lauren Boebert since January 2021. Boebert won her seat in 2020 by primarying then-incumbent Scott Tipton from the right and beating a former sociology professor in the general election. That year, Donald Trump won the district with just 52.9% of the vote.
As the 2022 cycle began, it appeared Boebert would again face a progressive challenger in the general election (all but guaranteeing re-election in her right-of-center district). But with just days to go before the filing deadline, a former independent named Adam Frisch jumped into the race to mount a challenge from the middle.
Frisch wasn’t a conventional Democrat — and he made that clear from the outset. Not only was Frisch a registered independent until he filed to run, but he was a businessman and former Aspen City Council member with a track record of governing on fiscal responsibility. When he entered the race, his pitch to voters was simple: he would unite Democrats, independents (called “unaffiliated voters” in Colorado), and moderate Republicans in a cross-partisan coalition to put a stop to the Boebert circus.
Heading into November, everyone from the pundits to national party operatives had all but written off CO-03 as unwinnable by a Democrat. It had been ranked as solidly Republican by the major ratings agencies and many felt that Boebert had a strong grip on the seat (despite Donald Trump’s relatively weak performance in the district).
But none of that mattered to Frisch, who ran the numbers and realized he only needed to flip roughly one out of every 20 Trump voters in the district to win the seat. After securing a narrow victory in the Democratic primary, he took his promise on the road, criss-crossing the district and reaching out to voters of all backgrounds and persuasions with a bipartisan promise to restore sanity and common-sense. In Frisch’s own words:
“I drove 24,000 miles around Western and Southern Colorado with my son recruiting people to what my mom calls the ‘pro-normal party.’”
Not only did Frisch meet CO-03 voters where they were physically, but he met them where they stood ideologically, too. His campaign centered around building a “tri-partisan coalition” of Democrats, Independents, and moderate Republicans. His website described him as a “patriotic mainstream businessman” with “the experience to work with both parties” on kitchen table issues like inflation, jobs, and public safety and highlighted his endorsement by Boebert’s moderate Republican primary challenger, Don Coram.
As Election Night 2022 commenced, CO-03 began to stand out.
Far from the blowout the experts had forecast (FiveThirtyEight expected the race to break for Boebert by a 14-point margin on November 9th), Frisch remained neck-and-neck with Boebert as batch after batch of votes were tallied — at certain points leading her by a few hundred votes.
The final results were so close that the race went to a recount, after whichit was confirmed that Frisch lost to Boebert by a razor-thin margin of just 546 votes. Not only did Frisch run more than five points ahead of Joe Biden’s 2020 margin, but he notched the strongest overperformance of the 2022 cycle in any Republican-held district where the Democrat received more than 35% of the vote.
Adam Frisch shocked the political world in November 2022 by showing how an independently-branded moderate Democrat can put a so-called “Safe Republican” district into play — and he did it all without a cent of support from the national Democratic Party.
As Frisch demonstrated, Democrats who go out of their way to meet to independents and moderate Republicans where they stand — not just physically but on the issues that matter to them — can build cross-partisan coalitions to compete seriously with democracy-undermining MAGA Republicans like Lauren Boebert on their home turf.
With 2024 on the horizon, Democrats must place more bets on savvy “long shots” like Frisch who welcome in center-right voters to win the middle.
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