The Colorado Independent's John Tomasic offers solid analysis today of the entry of Congressman Cory Gardner into the 2014 U.S. Senate race. As we began working through yesterday, once the elation among Republicans that an incumbent member of Congress will take on incumbent Democrat Mark Udall wears off, serious questions about the viability of Gardner as the top-line Republican candidate on the 2014 ballot present themselves:
Young and telegenic, career Colorado politico Gardner has been touted as the great hope for a state Republican Party that for years has lost races for top seats. The main, widely acknowledged reason for those defeats is that GOP candidates have been pulled to the right by a hard-core activist base while the broader state electorate has moved to the left.
But as top Republicans have struggled, Gardner has easily garnered votes. He won two elections to the Colorado legislature in a sparsely populated agricultural eastern plains district. In 2010, he was the only candidate in the Republican field with any experience as a lawmaker running in the state’s safely conservative high-plains Fourth Congressional District. He went from the Statehouse to the nation’s Capitol by espousing hardline Tea Party positions on social issues and energy policy.
Republicans here generally seem to be banking on Gardner as a political type that has been missing in the ranks as late. The hope is that he can sell a brand that has increasingly skewed old, hardcore, inflexible and threatening. That’s the image projected by statewide figures such as Ken Buck, Pete Coors, Bob Beauprez and Tom Tancredo. Insiders see Gardner as more in line with Republicans of the past who enjoyed more mainstream appeal, men like Wayne Allard, Bill Owens or Hank Brown, who all won top offices in the state.
The question now is whether Gardner, coming up as he has in the era of the Tea Party and embracing Tea Party positions for political advantage, has ruined his chance at convincing voters he is different than the Tea Party Republicans who can’t win a statewide race here. [Pols emphasis] Gardner, after all, has a record he has to run on, established over years where the party swerved right and away from compromise. When Gardner takes aim at Udall over Obamacare, Udall can fire back that Gardner voted to shut down the government. In the moderate middle-class Denver suburbs where elections are decided in Colorado, the angry, pointless, expensive shutdown may be at least as toxic a topic as Obamacare.
As we said, Gardner's entry into the Senate race is the direct result of the weak, out-of-touch field contending up until yesterday. The problem, much like Ken Buck himself, is that Gardner has already embraced all manner of unsightly hard-right positions from his safe Republican seat in Congress. Gardner is an proud supporter of the "Personhood" abortion ban, as the video above makes unequivocally clear. Gardner's biggest asset, a higher profile as a congressional incumbent also works against him–denying Republicans the anti-incumbency furor that might otherwise help them in this race.
Gardner faces other difficulties unique to himself, like his highly visible role in the controversy over disaster relief funds after last year's floods along the Front Range. East Coast politicians, including GOP Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, raged at Gardner and the rest of the Colorado GOP delegation as "hypocrites" after they voted against relief for Hurricane Sandy victims some months before. Gardner's name has surfaced several times as a participant in swanky fundraisers and overseas junkets.
The point is, and this is what we're increasingly hearing today from Democrats looking at this fundamentally reshaped race, is that the race remains entirely winnable for Mark Udall against Gardner–even more so if you assume, as seems safe, that whoever won the GOP primary would have enjoyed the support of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and other big-money Republicans. Okay, maybe not Randy Baumgardner. But when all is said and done, it may well be that Cory Gardner was no better prepared to defeat Udall than Amy Stephens.
How many of you said the same about Jane Norton four years ago?