Cory Gardner’s Run Shows GOP Expects a Promising Year

Top-tier candidates continue to jump in, as Obamacare weighs down Democrats.

Cory Gardner (R-CO) (R) celebrates after he luckily drew number one during an office selection lottery for new House members November 19, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Feb. 26, 2014, 3:35 p.m.

Sur­prise de­cisions by a slew of top-tier Re­pub­lic­an chal­lengers to enter this year’s Sen­ate race show that the GOP really does be­lieve Obama­care’s dis­astrous im­ple­ment­a­tion will de­liv­er a sweep­ing set of vic­tor­ies in Novem­ber.

The best and most re­cent ex­ample came Wed­nes­day, when The Den­ver Post re­por­ted that Rep. Cory Gard­ner of Col­or­ado will chal­lenge Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Ud­all. The move shocked Wash­ing­ton’s polit­ic­al es­tab­lish­ment: Not only was the two-term con­gress­man risk­ing what looked like a bright fu­ture in the House, but he had an­nounced last year that he wouldn’t run for Sen­ate. At the time, Ud­all looked nearly im­possible to de­feat in blue-trend­ing Col­or­ado.

But that was be­fore Obama­care’s web­site mal­func­tioned and people lost their health in­sur­ance, a polit­ic­al boon­doggle that has dragged on Demo­crats’ poll num­bers every­where. Now, Gard­ner clearly sees a path to vic­tory that wasn’t there be­fore Obama­care’s troubles — one wide enough to risk his polit­ic­al fu­ture on. And he’s not the only Re­pub­lic­an to make that cal­cu­la­tion.

Former Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Gillespie also un­ex­pec­tedly launched a cam­paign earli­er this year, tak­ing on Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner of Vir­gin­ia. The pop­u­lar in­cum­bent had drawn little op­pos­i­tion be­fore Gillespie’s en­trance, but Gillespie said the Af­ford­able Care Act gave him a chance at vic­tory. And though he might ul­ti­mately pass on a cam­paign, Scott Brown’s po­ten­tial run against Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hamp­shire has been en­cour­aged by sink­ing Demo­crat­ic ap­prov­al num­bers.

But it’s one thing to ar­gue, as Re­pub­lic­ans have for months, that they’re poised to win big be­cause an un­pop­u­lar is­sue is drag­ging down the op­pon­ent. It’s an­oth­er thing en­tirely for cred­ible Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates to bank an en­tire can­did­acy on it.

“Over the last few months as we’ve watched Obama­care and the pres­id­ent de­cline and a com­men­sur­ate de­cline in Ud­all’s num­bers, there’s been al­most a, ‘Darnit, why don’t we have a stronger can­did­ate get in this race?’ ” said Dick Wadhams, a long­time GOP con­sult­ant in Col­or­ado. “There was not a clear-cut chal­lenger out there with the stature to raise money and ar­tic­u­late is­sues.”

“Well, we’ve got that today,” he ad­ded. “Cory unites the party, and ap­peals to all those crit­ic­al swing voters. He’s just a game-changer.”

GOP hopes were boos­ted fur­ther when the party’s 2010 Sen­ate nom­in­ee, Ken Buck, an­nounced he would end his cam­paign against Ud­all and run for Gard­ner’s old con­gres­sion­al seat, ac­cord­ing to the Gree­ley Tribune. His exit will help the GOP avoid a messy primary. State Sen. Owen Hill and state Rep. Amy Steph­ens re­main in the primary, but GOP in­siders in Col­or­ado ex­pect Steph­ens — the nom­in­al choice of the es­tab­lish­ment who has struggled to raise money — will bow out of the race soon.

The GOP needs to win back a net of six seats to take con­trol of the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity. Gard­ner’s en­trance rep­res­ents, to date, the high-wa­ter mark in the Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans’ at­tempt to ex­pand the 2014 map bey­ond the core group of sev­en red states de­fen­ded by Demo­crats (Alaska, Montana, West Vir­gin­ia, South Dakota, Louisi­ana, Arkan­sas, and North Car­o­lina). Along with the emer­gence of Re­pub­lic­an Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, the party has three cred­ible can­did­ates run­ning in blue states con­trolled by Demo­crats — and four if Brown runs in New Hamp­shire.

The GOP isn’t the fa­vor­ite to win any of the blue-state cam­paigns, at least not yet. But their can­did­ates will put Demo­crats on the de­fens­ive.

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