Why did a Trump-backed GOP congressman lose in a Colo. primary?

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) wasn't supposed to lose his primary race. It's worth taking a closer look at why he did.
Image: Colorado vote
Jeff McMahan, from left, leans against the ballot drop off box outside of the Pitkin County government building while his friend Nick Calderone votes for the presidential primaries on Super Tuesday, in Aspen, Colo. on March 3, 2020.Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times via AP
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By Steve Benen

When looking for incumbent members of Congress likely to lose in a primary, few had their eyes on Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.). The five-term incumbent was endorsed by Donald Trump -- twice -- and he's voted with the Republican White House roughly 95% of the time. Tipton was also running against a political novice who had roughly one-tenth the amount of money in her campaign account as the longtime congressman.

And yet, to the surprise of many, Tipton lost anyway.

Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton lost his primary Tuesday to Lauren Boebert, a gun rights activist who has also been associated with the far-right conspiracy theory known as QAnon. He's the fourth House member, and third Republican, to lose his party's support for another term this cycle.

Though the votes are still being tallied, as of this morning, Boebert leads Tipton by about 9 points, and the congressman has already conceded.

Any time an incumbent member of Congress is soundly defeated in a primary, it's a notable political development, but the results out of Colorado's 3rd district are striking for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, Donald Trump and his team invested quite a bit of energy in recent weeks bragging that in this year's election cycle, candidates backed by the president were undefeated. Over the last three weeks, however, GOP voters ignored Trump's wishes in four different congressional elections -- including two defeats for incumbent Republican congressman who enjoyed the president's support.

The White House was eager to use this talking point to reinforce impressions of Trump as a powerful and influential political leader, especially within his party. That argument is quickly evaporating.

Second, while it's striking that Tipton was rejected by his own party's local voters, it's just as striking to note to whom he lost: Lauren Boebert owns a restaurant in which the staff carries guns. She attacked the far-right Republican congressman as not being radical enough, and Boebert has expressed some interest in the crackpot QAnon conspiracy theory.

She also ran on an anti-compromise platform, recently declaring, "I'm tired of compromise and I believe that the American people are tired of compromise."

So, what happens now? Donald Trump has already begun scrambling to support Boebert, but on the other side of the aisle, Democratic officials, who had low expectations about this district, are suddenly giving the race a fresh look, since Boebert may be too extreme for the GOP-leaning area.

The district has a partisan voter index of R+6, which suggests any Republican nominee has an advantage, but not an overwhelming one. Democrats in the district yesterday nominated Diane Mitsch Bush, a former state representative, whose odds of success appear to have just improved.

Watch this space.