National political analysts Inside Elections and Sabato's Crystal Ball say Republican chances of keeping Colorado's 3rd Congressional District in the GOP column have diminished since gun-rights activist and first-time candidate Lauren Boebert toppled U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a five-term incumbent, in last week's Republican primary.
The two nonpartisan election forecasters join the Cook Political Report, which last week moved the seat from the "Solid Republican" category to "Likely Republican," though all three still say the Republicans have the best chance of winning in November.
Boebert, who owns a restaurant in Rifle that features pistol-packing wait staff, faces former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, a retired sociology professor and former county commissioner, in the Republican-leaning, largely rural district, which covers the Western Slope, Pueblo County and the San Luis Valley.
Boebert "is a slight favorite in November despite all her problems as a candidate," say the prognosticators at Inside Elections, which shifted the district from "Safe Republican" to "Leans Republican."
The site says Boebert "remains a slim frontrunner" due to the district's history, swinging toward President Trump by 12 percentage points in 2016 and re-electing Tipton by comfortable margins, including an 8 percentage point win over Mitsch Bush in the last election.
"It is important to note, however, that Boebert is on thin-ice," the site says, adding that Boebert's controversial record could be targeted by Mitsch Bush in "dangerous advertisements," and suggesting the Republican "could add to her troubles by committing gaffes on the campaign trail."
Kyle Kondik, one of the editors of the University of Virginia Center for Politics' Sabato's Crystal Ball, moved the district from "Likely Republican" to "Leans Republican" following Boebert's "shock upset" of Tipton.
The situation is similar to a Virginia district where another ultra-conservative challenger ousted a Republican incumbent earlier in June, he says.
"Though it could develop into a closer race, we still see a Republican edge for now," Kondik writes. "Boebert has some stances that Democrats could try to use against her: Servers at her restaurant openly carry firearms, and she apparently sympathizes with the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory."
Boebert and her campaign have pushed back against Democrats' attempts to link her to the QAnon movement after she expressed sympathy for it in an online interview in May, saying she only had a "glancing acquaintance" with the elaborate conspiracy.
A Boebert campaign spokeswoman likewise dismissed the forecasters' ratings changes for the district.
"If the experts were right, she wouldn't be the nominee. Lauren Boebert will win this race because she's the right candidate with the right message," campaign communications director Laura Carno told Colorado Politics. "Our country is hungry for leaders who will fight for personal freedom and prosperity. That's Lauren Boebert."
A consultant with the Mitsch Bush campaign disagreed, arguing that Boebert's positions are too extreme for district voters.
"Boebert is extreme and out of touch and her values do not represent that of CD3," said Colin Hornsby.
"She spends more time entertaining QAnon conspiracy theories than creating real solutions for issues facing Colorado. People are not looking for someone who 'is tired of compromise' when they are losing their jobs and struggling to pay the bills, while navigating a global pandemic. Diane has a bipartisan record of finding solutions to the challenges Coloradans face, and is the problem-solver Coloradans want during these difficult times, and that's why they will send her to Washington in November."
Colorado Democrats have been gleefully piling on since Boebert's win. On Thursday, a spokesman for the state party attempted to link embattled Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner to the nominee, whose restaurant was served with a restraining order in May when she opened in defiance of public health orders.
“Senator Gardner has fully embraced President Trump 100%, so it makes sense that he’d get on board with the QAnon conspiracy theorist they share a ticket with," said Eli Rosen in a statement.
"If Gardner is so eager to campaign with Lauren Boebert, Coloradans deserve to know he’s okay with her defying public health orders and if Gardner agrees with her embrace of QAnon.”
With a 2018 Cook Partisan Voter Index of R+6 — a measure of its partisan lean — the district is more Republican than Colorado as a whole, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats, though not by a lot. According to the Colorado Secretary of State office's most recent voter registration report, 32.5% of active, registered voters are Republican, 27.3% are Democrats and 38.5% are unaffiliated, with the rest belonging to minor parties.
Before Tipton won the seat by defeating Democrat John Salazar in the 2010 Republican wave year, the 3rd District — with similar boundaries — had been represented by Democrats more often than it had been by Republicans over the previous three decades.