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Boebert continues stoking controversy amid intense battle to keep her job

By Melanie Zanona, CNN

(CNN) — Three months after Rep. Lauren Boebert apologized for disruptive conduct at a Denver theater, the Colorado Republican attended a glitzy Republican gala headlined by former President Donald Trump in Manhattan, where her behavior once again raised eyebrows.

At the December soiree, which was the New York Young Republican Club’s annual gala, multiple witnesses saw a server tell Boebert they would not bring her any more alcohol, with one witness telling CNN the server told the congresswoman they believed she had been overserved. Throughout the night, Boebert also kept attempting to snap selfies with Trump, who was sitting at the same table as her. Eventually, Trump’s security detail stepped in and asked Boebert to stop, according to the witnesses, who attended the event and saw the interaction take place.

Trump, however, still gave Boebert his full and total endorsement last month, which Boebert’s allies say is proof he clearly wasn’t very bothered by the incident. They also say her boisterous and loud personality can sometimes be misconstrued, especially by people who don’t know her well. CNN has reached out to Boebert’s office for comment.

But as Boebert desperately fights to keep her congressional career alive, the MAGA firebrand will need to dispel concerns about her controversial behavior – and accusations of carpetbagging – as she tries to convince voters in an entirely new district that she is best suited to represent a rural seat in eastern Colorado. Her allies, though, insist her congressional reputation will not be defined by her personal life, even if not everyone always agrees with her style.

“It hasn’t encumbered her job performance,” GOP Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida told CNN. “Look, some of that stuff that popped up wasn’t the best stuff to see. Even she acknowledges that. But none of us are perfect. Just because we’re elected officials doesn’t mean we’re any more perfect than anybody else. Stuff happens. But I think she has been able to do her job, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

For her part, Boebert is leaning on her record as conservative congresswoman. That record includes getting the Pueblo Jobs Act signed into law, a bill the congresswoman has said will create a thousand new jobs in the area. She also has been participating in dozens of forums in the district. And Boebert, who has a hefty campaign war chest, is already up with her first TV ad touting Trump’s endorsement. But it’s a tricky balancing act for the embattled congresswoman as she tries to tone down her public image and prove she is a serious legislator without backing down from her identity as a flame-throwing MAGA warrior.

“Every day is hard. I’m not afraid of a challenge though,” Boebert told CNN before the House left for a two-week break. “I mean, I think that’s what has always caused me to stand out because there is always something coming against me, always something in my way. And when times get tough, I get tougher.”

“I show that we can persevere and push through. I got my boys, I got my faith,” she added.

Boebert has also faced personal challenges, including a recent health issue. The congresswoman underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot in her leg and has been diagnosed with May-Thurner syndrome, her campaign announced earlier this week. The campaign said Boebert is expected to make a full recovery.

Boebert gets boost in reelection bid amid political and personal challenges

Boebert has been navigating a political rollercoaster over the past few months. After narrowly defeating a Democrat last cycle, she opted to run in more conservative-leaning terrain in Colorado’s 4th district, where former Rep. Ken Buck had announced he was retiring, instead of seeking re-election to her current seat in the 3rd district.

Boebert says the decision to relocate was based on personal reasons – namely, wanting a fresh start following a messy and public divorce – and not politically motivated, though the move undoubtedly better positioned her re-election chances.

But Buck threw a wrench into her plans last month when he decided to resign early, teeing up a special election to fill the remainder of his term on June 25 – the same day as the Republican primary for the general election this fall – and putting Boebert in an unenviable position.

If Boebert had decided to run for the vacant seat, she would have needed to give up her current one, a risky decision that would have also further shrunk the House’s already razor thin majority. But if the vacancy committee, which is made up of a panel of Colorado Republicans, had selected one of her primary competitors to fill the seat, it would have given that person a major edge in the primary contest.

Boebert ultimately decided not to run for the vacancy, and the gamble paid off: last week, the vacancy committee wound up selecting a placeholder candidate, Greg Lopez, who is not running this fall. The move provided a big and unexpected boost for Boebert, who had sent a letter to the committee before the meeting imploring them not to tip the scales by tapping someone who was also planning to run in the primary. Now, it becomes a more even playing field, which Boebert celebrated on social media.

“Greg stepped up with a servant heart and a leadership mindset with accountability being his driving force,” Boebert wrote on X after the meeting. “I look forward to serving the remainder of the 118th Congress with my soon to be colleague!”

But Boebert still has to prevail in the packed primary in June. Nearly a dozen Republican candidates have jumped into the race, though not all of them may appear on the ballot in June and only half a dozen are considered serious contenders. And sources close to Boebert believe a more crowded field of rivals may actually benefit Boebert by splitting up the rest of the vote.

Whoever wins the Republican primary is the heavy favorite to win this November, though at least one Democratic candidate running in the district believes it will be competitive if Boebert becomes the nominee. But even though it’s a reliable Republican seat, having Trump’s endorsement is not enough to carry a candidate over the finish line, according to a GOP strategist familiar with the district, which is heavily populated with ranchers and farmers who see agriculture policy as a top priority. Boebert herself came to Congress by defeating a Republican congressman in the primary who was endorsed by Trump.

“They all like Trump (in the district), they want someone supportive of Trump, but they’re not gonna vote based just off Trump,” the strategist said. “You’ve got to say you’re gonna work with him and you can’t be anti-Trump, but his endorsement alone is not gonna win the race.”

Boebert gets back up in feud with Buck

Still, Boebert has some powerful allies in her corner. Aside from Trump, she also has the support of Speaker Mike Johnson, who hosted a fundraiser for the congresswoman earlier this year and has made an effort to protect embattled incumbents in primaries, according to a source familiar with the event.

And the far-right House Freedom Caucus is also rallying around Boebert, whom they view as a crucial champion for their cause. Members have been encouraged to contribute to her campaign and some members are in talks about traveling out to Boebert’s district to help support her, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The Freedom Caucus also took another step that was seen as running defense for Boebert. Days before Buck was set to leave Congress, the Freedom Caucus voted to boot Buck from their ranks. The official reason was cited as attendance issues, but many in the group – Boebert included – believe Buck purposely resigned early in an attempt to sabotage Boebert’s re-election chances . And kicking him out of the group was seen as a form of symbolic payback, even if it had little practical impact.

“There’s been discussion of his removal for a very long time now. He doesn’t reflect the Freedom Caucus, and it hasn’t for quite some time. And unfortunately, I’ve had a front row seat,” Boebert told CNN. “He was somebody who I expected to be a mentor for me, but it just never happened. You know, he actually wrote my favorite political book, ‘Drain the Swamp.’ And I think maybe I should send him a copy and he should re-read it.”

Buck denies that the timing of his resignation was designed to kneecap Boebert in any way.

“I did it because we don’t have to have two separate elections and cost the taxpayers two separate elections,” he told CNN. “I have scrupulously avoided commenting on that race, just because I don’t want people to think I’m taking one side or the other.”

While Boebert has publicly feuded with other Republican lawmakers – including GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene – she has found close allies inside the Freedom Caucus. GOP lawmakers who are close to Boebert describe someone who is fun to be around and is known to crack self-deprecating jokes about her situation. But whether that’s a quality that will matter to voters remains to be seen.

“She’s fun at a party. She’s been really cool. And she’s probably made more jokes about her own stupidity in that movie theater than I’ve heard elsewhere,” one GOP lawmaker told CNN. “I was critical of her at first, but now I am quite comfortable around her. To me, Lauren has gotten to be better.”

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