Lauren Boebert’s rise as right-wing Twitter celebrity gives her added visibility in close race

Republican congressional candidate Lauren Boebert has amassed a Twitter following of more than 200,000 supporters — more than Colorado’s current governor, its former governor, and a U.S. senator — giving the conservative upstart an online edge over her Democratic opponent in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District race, which is expected to be a close contest.

“Somebody who knows how to use social media has an advantage,” says Michael Cornfield, a George Washington University professor who studies Twitter use by congressional campaigns. “That doesn’t guarantee victory, of course, but that is an advantage.”

Boebert’s rise to conservative social media stardom coincided with her stunning win over Rep. Scott Tipton, a Cortez Republican who rarely uses the website, on June 30. Twitter is well suited for the time and place Boebert finds herself in, campaigning across half of Colorado on a relatively small budget during a pandemic that has drastically shrunk crowd sizes.

“It adds to name ID, which brings in money,” said Trish Zornio, a former Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate who also has a large Twitter following. “It’s just another way to add to your campaign. It’s not the end-all and be-all but it is something that contributes. She’s got a pretty solid platform.”

Boebert’s posts on the social media site — which has become a playpen for politicos and the reporters who cover them — are a mix of Trumpian antagonism, conservative platitudes, culture war charges, policy ideas and the occasional conspiracy theory. They rarely mention her opponent, Diane Mitsch Bush, but have a Trump-like ability to garner immediate attention from disparagers and devotees alike.

It wasn’t always that way. Boebert’s Twitter account was born when her campaign was, in December 2019, and was little used for the first several months. By mid-February, she was asking supporters to help her reach 3,000 followers. She would go a dozen days without tweeting at times and in April posted only 13 times.

In May, her approach changed, and her following skyrocketed to 30,000 by May 6. Posts were suddenly garnering thousands of retweets and likes. At times in May she tweeted more in a day than she had in all of April. She tweeted at popular accounts, namely Trump, bringing her more attention from his fans.

Boebert, 33, quickly found an audience in conservative circles decrying shutdowns meant to slow the coronavirus pandemic. Closing small businesses was “criminal,” she wrote May 6. Three days later she alleged, “If Hillary (Clinton) was President, no one would even be talking about this virus.” On May 12, she criticized Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert. On May 15, she accused Democrats of prolonging shutdowns to hurt Trump.

Posts that Boebert has clicked the “like” button on have delved deeper into the online world of conspiracy theories. In early July, she liked a post that featured the hashtag #WWG1WGA, or “where we go one, we go all,” a rallying cry for believers in QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that alleges Trump is secretly fighting an elite cabal of Satanist pedophiles who operate a child sex trafficking ring.

Boebert expressed some interest in QAnon while appearing on a QAnon talk show in mid-May but she and her campaign spokesperson have since stated on several occasions that Boebert does not believe in the conspiracy theory.

On June 13, she liked a tweet from QAnon believer DeAnne Lorraine that claimed the “world is waking up” and used the hashtag #ExposeBillGates, reference to a far-right conspiracy theory that the Microsoft founder is trying to track and control the world’s population through microchips in coronavirus vaccines.

On June 3, Boebert liked a tweet from a parody account that called former President Barack Obama a “Kenyan terrorist” and claimed Michelle Obama is a man. The tweet was later unliked by Boebert.

Boebert’s most popular tweets came in May, the month of her Twitter rise. One listing prominent Democrats and their time in office ended, “Yet somehow Trump is the one who created the problems in America,” and was shared 22,700 times. Another accusing Democrats of favoring undocumented immigrants over small business owners received 17,900 retweets. A star of right-wing Twitter was born.

“If you’re on a campaign and you want to know how you’re doing on Twitter, you look at retweets,” said Cornfield. “If people are retweeting what the candidate is saying, that’s an approximate sign of support. That is peer-to-peer communication, which in our age is more trusted than communication from the media.”

Boebert’s campaign has told reporters she is still studying policies before taking positions and laying out plans, but she has posted some policy ideas to Twitter. Among them: that open carry should be legal nationwide, for example, and that “there shouldn’t even be a federal Department of Education.” In May, she wrote she would “veto any legislation that raises taxes,” a power that members of Congress do not have.

Trump’s transformation of Twitter into the tech world’s loudest megaphone has spurred considerable research of its effects on elections since 2016. A Cornfield study of 2018 midterm campaigns found four incumbent House members avoided Twitter in the months before the election and half lost. Five Democrats who used Twitter far more than their opponents beat Republican incumbents that year.

“And the primacy of digital campaigning has risen because of the pandemic,” he said Thursday.

Zornio, despite a Twitter following of 109,000 that rivaled that of her top opponents, did not win the Democratic primary this year. But it helped the political novice make a run.

“I didn’t make any fundraising calls. I didn’t have wealthy people in a Rolodex. I wasn’t that kind of candidate. So, the six-figures-plus that I raised came almost exclusively from Twitter posts,” she said.

Mitsch Bush has about 8,300 Twitter followers, as of Friday. Using analysis software, Cornfield calculated the number of times her name was mentioned on Twitter and the number of times Boebert’s name was mentioned between July 1 — the day their race began — and Thursday.

“The numbers are kind of staggering,” the professor said. “In the U.S., Boebert’s name has been mentioned in this two month and 10 day period almost 51,000 times. 50,920 to be exact. Mitsch Bush’s name has been mentioned 2,531 times. That’s a 20-fold difference in mentions.”

Within Colorado, Boebert’s name was mentioned 3,629 times compared to 687 times for Mitsch Bush, a less drastic difference. The Democrat has criticized Boebert’s tweets for containing little mention of Colorado or the 3rd District. An Aug. 20 fundraising email from Mitsch Bush’s campaign looked at 24 hours of tweets from Boebert.

“Just like we thought: not a single mention of Colorado. Instead, she made a nod to her QAnon followers by attacking Tom Hanks, talked about rapper Cardi B, and topped off the 24 hours with an attack on the intelligence of her favorite bogeywoman, AOC,” the email stated, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat that Boebert has tweeted about 37 times.

Scant polling in the race between Boebert and Mitsch Bush has shown a close contest in a district Republicans won easily four years ago. On Thursday, Boebert received the endorsement of Trump, the Republican president she idolizes.

It was announced on Twitter.

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