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
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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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