In her first term in Congress, Lauren Boebert rose to fame as a ‘Maga’ phenomenon. The pro-Trump Republican was supposed to glide to re-election in conservative western Colorado. Instead, as the final votes are counted, she’s facing a formidable challenge from a middle-of-the-road Democrat.
In September 2019, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke made a stop in Aurora, Colorado. Mr O’Rourke had made gun control central to his campaign, and in Aurora that day he doubled down on his call to ban semi-automatic weapons.
As he spoke, most of the crowd clapped. Lauren Boebert did not.
Ms Boebert, 35, a restaurant owner and mother of four, had driven three hours from her home in Rifle, Colorado, to confront Mr O’Rourke.
“I was one of the gun-owning Americans who heard you speak regarding your ‘hell yes I’m going to take your AR-15s and AK-47s’,” she said. “Well, I’m here to say ‘hell, no, you’re not’.”
The moment – caught on video – went viral and became a conservative media talking point. A Republican star was born.
Three months later, she announced her bid to represent Colorado’s third congressional district in Congress.
The heckling episode captured much of the style of Ms Boebert, the candidate and, later, Ms Boebert the congresswoman: Combative, unrestrained and bold.
Her 2019 candidacy looked like a long shot. To win the Republican nomination she had to beat a five-term Trump-endorsed incumbent.
But during the campaign across the vast rural district – an enormous stretch of land covering half of Colorado – she “just absolutely outworked him,” said Kevin McCarney, a local GOP official in Ms Boebert’s district. “She’s five feet if she’s lucky – but holy cow, the energy.”
Ms Boebert used that energy to relentlessly attack her opponent from the right, telling voters she was the better torch bearer for Mr Trump’s Republican party. It paid off.
It was on the campaign trail – often with a gun visibly holstered to her thigh – that Ms Boebert started to introduce herself. Growing up in Colorado with her Democrat-voting mother, Ms Boebert described a childhood spent in poverty, complete with “humiliating” trips to the grocery store with nothing but food stamps to spend.
With her husband, oil field worker Jayson Boebert, she started Shooters Grill, a restaurant in Rifle where servers openly carried guns.
“I’m living the American dream,” she said. “I came up from welfare, standing in line waiting for government cheese, to now running for Congress.”
Much like her run-in with Mr O’Rourke, Ms Boebert arrived in Congress in January 2021 ready for a fight.
In one of her first days on the job, she voted to overturn the election results. Since then, she has picked relentless fights with her Democratic colleagues and heckled President Joe Biden during his 2022 State of the Union address. Keeping up her advocacy for gun rights, she vowed to bring her handgun to the Capitol and drew attention for a family holiday card picturing her four young sons wielding rifles.
She did not pass a single piece of legislation.
Still, Ms Boebert had been considered a shoo-in for re-election on Tuesday, presiding over an area where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by nine points. Polling site FiveThirtyEight put her odds of victory at 97%.
And, in her district last month, voters spoke of their enthusiasm for her fighting spirit and hard-right instincts.
But there were some signs that that popularity might be fading, particularly among the moderate members of her party. Prominent state Republicans, including state Senator Don Coram, who ran against Ms Boebert in the primary, called her an “embarrassment” and endorsed her opponent, Democrat Adam Frisch.
Now, as the final votes are counted, it looks like Ms Boebert is fighting for her political life against Mr Frisch, another political newcomer who campaigned as a self-described conservative businessman.
Speaking to Mr Frisch, 55, days before the election, the former city councilman knew he was the underdog. But he also thought that his opponent’s abrasive style had made a surprise upset possible.
“I think [Boebert] has done a good job on opening up a huge allowance for someone else to come in there,” Mr Frisch told the BBC.
By Wednesday, the tone from his camp became outright celebratory. “Hopefully soon Coloradans and Americans alike can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that there is one less extremist in office,” Mr Frisch said in an email to supporters.
With some 98% of the votes counted as of Thursday afternoon, Ms Boebert had a razor-thin lead of about 430 votes.
Her defeat would mean a sudden political end to one of the Maga movement’s brightest stars.