RIFLE, Colo. – Debbie Hartman voted for Lauren Boebert for Congress in 2020 and again in 2022, delighted by Boebert's unequivocal defense of cultural issues that animate the Republican Party's far right flank. But as Hartman shopped recently at a supermarket in this Rocky Mountain ranching outpost, she had one piece of advice for the Colorado lawmaker.
“Tone down the nasty rhetoric on occasion and just stick with the point at hand,” said Hartman, 65, a veterinary tech assistant.
That sentiment reflects Boebert's challenge as she begins her second term in the House. In her relatively short time in Washington, she has built a national profile with a combative style embracing everything from gun ownership to apocalyptic religious rhetoric. Constituents such as Hartman in the Republican-leaning 3rd Congressional District laud Boebert for defending their rights, but cringe at her provocations, contributing to an unexpectedly tight race last year that she won by just 546 votes out of more than 300,000 cast.
“She tapped into what Trump was doing, and she maybe took it too far in some instances,” said Alex Mason, 27, adding that Boebert, whom he supports, is still more tactful than former President Donald Trump.
In an interview, Boebert said “this slim victory, it opened my eyes to another chance to do everything that I’ve been promising to do."
To the congresswoman, that means being “more focused on delivering the policies I ran on than owning the left,” adding she hoped “to bring the temperature down, to bring unity.”
For much of past week, however, the temperature on Capitol Hill was only rising. Boebert was a leading voice among a group of lawmakers who refused to support Rep. Kevin McCarthy's bid to become House speaker, a historic revolt against a party leader. McCarthy finally won the gavel early Saturday morning.
Some of Boebert's toughest words are increasingly aimed at fellow Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, another controversial Trump acolyte who was one of McCarthy's most prominent conservative supporters.
“I have been asked to explain MTG’s beliefs on Jewish space lasers, on why she showed up to a white supremacist conference. ... I’m just not going to go there,” Boebert said over the phone as she rode in a car winding through the high canyons near her hometown of Silt before the speakership vote. “She wants to say all these things and seem unhinged on Twitter, so be it.”
Boebert, 36, insisted that while she may try to pick fewer fights with the left, she's not going to become a different person even after barely beating an opponent, Democrat Adam Frisch, who had targeted what he called Boebert's “angertainment.”
“A lot of those on the left have said: ‘Look at your election, are you going to tone it down, little girl?'" she said. “I'm still going to be me.”
The slim margin has stirred discussion about whether she might be vulnerable in another race next year, with Frisch saying he has received encouragement from lawmakers in Washington to run again..
But, she said, she's thinking more about what it's like to be a member of the majority party.
“In the minority, all I had was my voice, the only thing I could do was be loud about the things I’m passionate about,” she said. Now, "We have to lead right now, we have to show Americans that we deserve to be in the majority.”
People in Boebert’s district, which runs from the ruddy red mesas in Grand Junction that stand sentry over rugged, high-desert terrain to the coal mining hamlets nestled in the Rockies, say the landscape promotes a kind of frontier libertarianism. To many voters, Boebert became a standard-bearer for a rural way of life and values that they feel are being both persecuted and forgotten.
Larry Clark, who spent 50 years tending to his family’s 160-acre ranch before his relatives sought cash for the land, points to one example. Many more liberal city-dwellers east of the Rockies voted to reintroduce wolves to the Western Slope, where the predators’ prey includes livestock that drives the local economy.
“They don’t understand what rural life is like," said Clark, who only had encouraging words for Boebert, a staunch opponent of reintroduction. "Send the wolves to Boulder.”
Even if they've grown wary of her excesses, many of Boebert’s supporters say she’s amplified their concerns nationally and served as an an antidote to progressive Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Raleigh Snyder, a retired aircraft mechanic in Grand Junction, said Boebert was America’s only chance against “endemic corruption” in Washington. Still, he said “she’s probably going to have to learn to temper her approach, but don’t change her goals.”
Outside Rifle's City Market, Maryann Tonder said she doesn't want Boebert “even to feel that she has to compromise principles to get stuff done." But, she added, "you can do it in a way that is not over the top.”
Another Boebert supporter in Rifle, Julie Ottman, who was pushing a cart out of City Market, said, “sometimes you got to give a little bit in order to get.”
But others are pressing Boebert to stand firm.
“I don’t want her to bow," said Mike Gush, 64, a coal miner from the small town of Craig. “I would stop supporting her.”
Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.