Cory Gardner Helps Colorado Set GOP Stage for 2016 and Beyond

Conservative congressman’s race against Sen. Mark Udall illustrates how Republicans need to steer clear of extreme-right positions.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) (R) questions Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (L) as she turns around to her aides during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about the troubled launch of the Healthcare.gov website October 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. The federal healthcare insurance exchange site has been plagued by problems since its launch on October 1. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Alex Roarty
April 6, 2014, 8 a.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an Party’s path to a Sen­ate ma­jor­ity this year lies mostly in a hand­ful of red, largely South­ern states. But no Sen­ate race in 2014 is poised to say more about the GOP’s fu­ture — in 2016 and bey­ond — than the one in Col­or­ado.

The Centen­ni­al State ar­rived late on the midterm map, be­com­ing a mar­quee con­test only after Rep. Cory Gard­ner, who last year pub­licly passed on a cam­paign, re­versed him­self and entered the race against Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Ud­all. And as a pickup op­por­tun­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans, it still ranks be­low prime tar­gets like South Dakota, West Vir­gin­ia, Arkan­sas, and Louisi­ana.

But claim­ing vic­tory in a con­ser­vat­ive state like Arkan­sas re­quires the GOP to per­form well with the kind of white, work­ing-class voters who already over­whelm­ingly lean right. Col­or­ado is dif­fer­ent; if Gard­ner wants to win there, he’ll have to as­semble a more di­verse co­ali­tion of sup­port­ers — the type of ra­cially di­verse, well-edu­cated voters the party’s next pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee will need to win the White House in 2016.

It’s a chal­lenge few Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates have met of late, either at the pres­id­en­tial level or in Sen­ate races. With the ex­cep­tion of 2010, no GOP Sen­ate can­did­ate had de­feated a Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate in a blue state — either against an in­cum­bent or in an open-seat battle — since Mel Mar­tinez’s 2004 vic­tory in Flor­ida. Then came the last midterm races. That year, three Re­pub­lic­ans won on tra­di­tion­ally Demo­crat­ic turf — Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Ron John­son in Wis­con­sin, and Mark Kirk in Illinois.

Party strategists are con­fid­ent this midterm year will look a lot like the last one, the kind of wave that would carry a can­did­ate like Gard­ner to vic­tory. But in 2010 Re­pub­lic­ans failed to win against Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mi­chael Ben­net be­cause their nom­in­ee — a loc­al dis­trict at­tor­ney named Ken Buck — held an ar­ray of ex­treme po­s­i­tions on so­cial is­sues. In a de­bate, for in­stance, he com­pared be­ing gay to al­co­hol­ism.

What makes Gard­ner’s can­did­acy in­triguing, and why Col­or­ado is such a good test case for fu­ture races, is his ap­par­ent de­term­in­a­tion not to fall in­to the same trap. Shortly after an­noun­cing his can­did­acy, Gard­ner re­nounced his sup­port for “per­son­hood” le­gis­la­tion, which would grant fer­til­ized eggs the same leg­al pro­tec­tions as people. The con­gress­man said he did so be­cause he came to real­ize that such a law would also ban some types of con­tra­cep­tion.

Demo­crats de­ride Gard­ner’s switch as one born not of con­vic­tion but polit­ic­al op­por­tunism; re­gard­less, there’s little doubt that op­pos­ing such a meas­ure is help­ful in the state: Col­or­ado voters over­whelm­ingly re­jec­ted a bal­lot ini­ti­at­ive on per­son­hood in 2010.

“Ken Buck had the lead go­ing in­to Oc­to­ber, and he ended up los­ing be­cause he said some things that made him un­ac­cept­able to enough Re­pub­lic­an and un­af­fili­ated wo­men in the sub­urbs that they voted for Sen­at­or Ben­net,” said Dick Wadhams, a GOP strategist in Col­or­ado.

So­cial is­sues, es­pe­cially abor­tion rights and ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tion, have been a ma­jor part of the Demo­crat­ic play­book in blue states, and by and large the tac­tic has been ef­fect­ive. Ud­all’s cam­paign has made clear in the early go­ing that it will con­tin­ue to pound Gard­ner’s po­s­i­tion on per­son­hood le­gis­la­tion even after his re­versal.

“Con­gress­man Gard­ner’s ef­forts to hide his real agenda from Col­oradans is af­firm­a­tion of what we’ve been say­ing all along, that he doesn’t share main­stream Col­or­ado val­ues,” said Chris Har­ris, spokes­man for the cam­paign. “Voters will see that he’s not who he says he is.”

Gard­ner’s cam­paign, for its part, is fo­cus­ing on is­sues like the eco­nomy and Obama­care. Lately it’s also pushed Ud­all on wheth­er he backs a pos­sible statewide meas­ure to ban the drilling pro­cess known as frack­ing, a meas­ure that puts the sen­at­or between his lib­er­al base and main­stream voters.

What We're Following See More »
BAD NEWS FOR CLINTON
Trump and Clinton Equally Disliked
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

According to the most recent Gallup poll, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are equally disliked. The poll, conducted between July 18 and July 25, shows both major party candidates for president are viewed favorably by 37 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 58 percent of respondents. This poll is bad news for Clinton, who has received better favorable and unfavorable ratings in nearly every poll over the last year.

Source:
VP PICK TAKES DIFFERENT TONE THAN TRUMP
Pence: “Serious Consequences” if Russia Hacked DNC
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The same day that Donald Trump encouraged Russia to hack the State Department and "find the 30,000 emails that are missing," the GOP nominee for vice president took a more serious approach. "If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences," Pence said in a statement. Trump's comments at a press conference this morning were rebuked by individuals across the political spectrum, while some on Trump's team, including prominent surrogate Newt Gingrich, have called his comments a "joke."

Source:
ECONOMY STABILIZING
Fed Leaves Rates Alone, but Signals Hikes to Come
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The Federal Open Market Committee today voted to leave interest rates alone, but "upgraded its assessment of the economy’s recent performance and said near-term risks to the outlook have diminished, effectively leaving the door open to raise rates later this year, possibly as early as September."

Source:
CHARM OFFENSIVE
Pence Is Trump’s Man on Capitol Hill
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Spurred by VP pick Mike Pence, a former congressman with close ties to many lawmakers, the Trump campaign in recent weeks has stepped up its courtship of wary Capitol Hill Republicans. And the efforts appear to be bearing fruit." Central to the charm offensive: invitations to more than a dozen "Senate and House members into his family’s private box for some power-schmoozing with him and his kids" during the Republican National Convention.

Source:
PAUL RYAN: STOP IT
Trump Encourages More Spying by Russia
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump essentially encouraged more Russian espionage against Democrats in a press conference this morning. "Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” That prompted Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan to say: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”

Source:
×