Republican choice for vacated US House seat is surprise boon for Lauren Boebert | Colorado

A Colorado Republican panel made the surprising decision on Thursday night to choose a former mayor, Greg Lopez, to be congressman Ken Buck’s likely replacement until the November general election, a saving grace for Lauren Boebert’s bid for another term in Congress.

Lopez will now run as the Republican candidate in the 25 June special election after Buck’s resignation at the same time GOP primary candidates are vying to be the congressman’s successor.

The stakes, however, were far higher than keeping Buck’s seat in the US House warmed by a Republican.

Of the nine competitors who jostled for the special election nomination, seven also are running in the primary race against Boebert. The far-right representative jumped into the race after a near loss in the seat she now holds.

While Lopez is likely to win in the dark red district, he will be a placeholder and plans to step down after the general election winner is sworn into office in January. For two of Boebert’s primary opponents who came in second and third, the special election candidacy would have been a boon.

They would have run in two different elections for the same seat, garnering more attention, media coverage and fundraising opportunities. That would have boosted their odds in the primary race where they are otherwise eclipsed by Boebert’s near household name and hefty campaign chest.

That tension was palpable throughout the six-hour meeting with six votes on Thursday, which winnowed the field in the special election for Buck’s seat to two options, Lopez and former state senator Jerry Sonnenberg, one of Boebert’s stiffest primary competitors.

Lauren Boebert outside US Capitol in Washington DC on 13 March 2024. Photograph: Bonnie Cash/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Throughout the evening, there were accusations Buck had intended to kneecap Boebert’s campaign by stepping down early and giving one of her opponents a potential leg up. Boebert pushed the claim, saying in a previous statement: “The establishment concocted a swampy backroom deal to try to rig an election.”

Buck denied that was his intention.

Boebert sent a letter to delegates before the meeting encouraging them to choose a placeholder, so as not to “influence the regular primary election in a way that would taint the entire process and give this candidate an unfair leg up”.

That riled her primary opponents, including the former state senator Ted Harvey.

On stage, Harvey lashed back at those who had voted for Lopez after landing the third-most votes.

“They didn’t do it to support the candidate Greg Lopez, they did it to support their own candidates who weren’t here tonight. That’s not just putting us at risk, but it’s putting our nation at risk,” Harvey said.

Harvey then asked his supporters to throw their weight behind Sonnenberg, one of Harvey’s primary opponents. Sonnenberg barely lost to Lopez in the final vote and seemed to shrug off the loss.

“This is not a game for the weak. I understand completely, they made a decision,” he said, gesturing toward the mingling crowd.

Lopez is a former mayor of Parker, Colorado, who ran two unsuccessful bids for governor and said he would “do the best job that I can and represent this state to the best of my ability”.

This helps keep the field clear for Boebert, who has built a far-right name with a ferocious political style and remains a known, if divisive, quantity among conservatives nationwide.

While Boebert has made headlines with scandals, including a tape of her groping and vaping with a date in a Denver theater, she also has garnered endorsements from Donald Trump and a key supporter of the former president, the House speaker, Mike Johnson.

Those votes of confidence will probably go far for Boebert in the new district, an expansive sweep of Colorado’s plains where voters overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2020 and her opponents are lesser-known, local Republicans.

Boebert moved east to join the race in this district at the end of last year, after she nearly lost her previous, Republican-leaning seat to a Democratic candidate in 2022.

The option to district-hop was opened to Boebert after Buck announced last year he would not run for re-election, citing his party’s handling of Trump.

Buck abruptly left Congress on 22 March, pointing to the “bickering and nonsense” he said now pervades the US Capitol.

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