Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in the Colorado Times Recorder. Garfield County is the geographically massive county to the west of Eagle County, stretching from Glenwood Springs to the Utah border:
Two prominent Garfield County Republicans running for office on Nov. 3 are being cagey about the impacts of “up-ballot” GOP candidates President Donald Trump and congressional hopeful Lauren Boebert on their own races … and whether they wholeheartedly support the pair.
State Sen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican who’s running for the Senate District 8 seat he was first appointed to in 2019, acknowledges Trump is not the most popular candidate in Colorado.
“Yeah, I worry about a blue wave. I got an email today from somebody who thinks I’m Donald Trump,” Rankin said in a phone interview last week. “My work is so different, being Western slope, Colorado, it doesn’t have much to do with partisan bickering, but people want to throw me in that category.”
Working in the minority most of his time in the state legislature (he was reelected to House District 57 in 2018 and then appointed to the SD8 seat when Randy Baumgardner resigned in disgrace), Rankin says he’s had to cross the aisle on so many issues to get anything done.
“I vote against my own caucus all the time, with the Republicans on the Front Range, because their interests are different, their constituents are different,” Rankin said. “They don’t care about the same stuff we do.”
But saying he opposes the Republican in the White House is a bridge too far.
“I would never say I’m not a supporter of Trump because I like many of the things that have happened in the Trump administration,” Rankin said. “I don’t share his personality or his political methods.”
As for Boebert, a controversial Trump loyalist who has been endorsed by the president for the state’s 3rd District in the U.S. congressional race, Rankin said he’s asked about the political newcomer all the time, admitting she’s clearly still working to learn the key issues in the district after upsetting five-term incumbent Scott Tipton in the June 30 Republican primary.
“Right now, she’s running for office and it’s a contentious race and that’s where her focus is. I believe in the Republican principles of small government, individual freedom and free markets, so that attracts me to vote for the Republican candidate,” Rankin said. “In principle, I agree with Lauren and I believe that she has the ability to learn the issues.”
Rankin would not comment on Boebert’s Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush – with whom he worked across the aisle on numerous bills over the years. Boebert has fashioned herself as a conservative hardliner who will not compromise with Democrats.
“I’ve been a sponsor of 150 bills since I’ve been there [beginning in 2013] and I think every one of them has been bipartisan because I had to work out of the minority my entire time,” said Rankin, a member of the Joint Budget Committee in the Democrat-controlled state legislature. Boebert, if elected, will likely be in the minority in a Democrat-controlled U.S. House.
Rankin’s Democratic opponent, Carbondale rancher and Glenwood Springs attorney Karl Hanlon, lost a Democratic CD3 primary to Mitsch Bush in 2018. He says SD8, which is about a quarter to a third of CD3, is rural, majority unaffiliated and looking for solutions in Washington.
“They don’t want the open warfare in D.C. that they have continued to see,” Hanlon said. “What they are worried about is, can I pay my health insurance or even get health insurance? Can I pay my rent? Can I get food for my kids? Am I going to have a job tomorrow?”
Saying Rankin has made it clear he’s both a Boebert and Trump supporter, Hanlon acknowledges the frustrations of rural voters in northwestern Colorado.
“People are still angry … that rural America is not represented or talked to or thought about,” Hanlon said. “And when you think about the number of people in D.C. that actually know what a tractor is, other than [Montana Senator and farmer] John Tester, there aren’t a hell of a lot left.
“Having people who actually understand and are willing to fight for rural America and rural Colorado is critically important, and it’s a huge passion of mine,” Hanlon added.
Carbondale, where Hanlon and Rankin reside, is in the southeastern corner of sprawling Garfield County – which stretches from Glenwood Canyon in the east all the way west to the Utah border. Rifle, where Boebert owns the pistol-packing Shooters Grill restaurant, is more in the middle.
It’s also the hometown of former Republican state House Speaker Russell George, who recently endorsed Mitsch Bush over Boebert for CD3, and Republican Mike Samson, who’s seeking a fourth four-year commissioner term in term-limitless Garfield County. Samson is opposed by longtime Rifle resident and Garfield County community activist Leslie Robinson, a Democrat.
Samson earlier this month had the Glenwood Spring Post Independent retract a story saying he and fellow longtime Republican commissioner John Martin, who’s also running for reelection against Democrat Beatriz Soto, endorsed Boebert. Samson, in phone interview last week, explained he supports Boebert but does not fully endorse her.
“I cannot, and I will not support Diane Mitsch Bush; she’s a liberal Democrat, and that ideology is not of my style,” Samson said. “Boebert is more of my style, and I agree with her ideology. I didn’t say I would vote for her. I didn’t say I wouldn’t vote for her. I just said her ideology is much closer to mine than Diane Mitsch Bush.”
Boebert’s central ideology stems from her fierce desire to limit gun safety measures and protect gun rights, but she’s also made headlines for seeming to support the debunked and dangerous QAnon conspiracy as well as self-proclaimed militia groups deemed a domestic terror threat by the FBI.
“She’s brash, she’s outspoken, but I like many of her stances, obviously, or what she stands for, but I think she could do it in a better way,” Samson said. “Like I say, I think Donald Trump could portray himself in a better way, and I say that about both of them.”
But supporting Boebert on issues of personal freedom, free markets and small government does not mean Samson backs her on conspiracy theories or guns as a means of guarding against an overreaching government. Still, he says is concerned about those movements on the left.
“There are dark forces afloat in politics in many ways,” Samson said. “I’m not going to go into some crazy conspiracy thing … but I’m telling you that there are people that don’t have good intentions that are very involved in politics and want to destroy our nation. I see that on a national level, I see that on a state level, and I see it creeping in and coming into Garfield County.”
Robinson, a Democrat in the right-leaning town of Rifle who lives just a few blocks from Boebert’s restaurants, argues the opposite is true – that the dark forces are on the right and have a way of bullying the community.
“Lauren represents that alt-right crowd that have been empowered by Trump to be more vocal in life or politics,” Robinson said a phone interview this past summer.
Polling shows Mitsch Bush with a slight lead in conservative CD3, in which Democrats trail both Republicans and unaffiliated voters in overall registration, but Trump carried that massive 29-country district by 12 percentage points in 2016. Boebert shocked five-term Republican Tipton in the June 30 primary, but she only won her home Garfield County by a scant 110 votes.
In the 2018 midterm, when she lost to Tipton by about 8 percentage points districtwide, Mitsch Bush came up just short in Garfield County, losing to Tipton by a mere 426 votes.