The last three days have been some of the most dramatic in recent Colorado political history, with major changes affecting the races for the U.S. Senate, Colorado's 4th Congressional District, and very likely the Colorado gubernatorial race. The entry of Rep. Cory Gardner into the Senate race, which prompted the pre-arranged exit of erstwhile frontrunner Ken Buck and insider darling Amy Stephens from the GOP primary, has dramatically raised the profile of what was formerly shaping up to be an easy win for incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
Knowing Gardner as well as we do, we wouldn't go as far as our friend Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, who declares today that Udall had "the worst week in Washington" as a result of Gardner's challenge. Gardner has much hard-right baggage as a safe-seat wedge issue-loving Republican, both from the Colorado legislature and the U.S. Senate. Udall has a more legitimate fight on his hands than he did at the beginning of this week, primarily because Gardner can at least raise money (unlike most of the other candidates). But it's an incremental upgrade at best.
The question is, how did this elaborate bargain go down? State Sen. Owen Hill, who has announced his intention to stay in the U.S. Senate race despite Gardner's entry, says that Gardner tried to push him out of the race over a week ago–disputing Rep. Stephens, who claims she only got word of Gardner's impending entry into the race on Tuesday night. On KOA radio this morning, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus flat-out said that this deal had been in the works for weeks.
PRIEBUS: I’ll just tell you that, I think what you're seeing happening, especially in the last few days, these are things that have been happening for weeks and months and I think there's more to come. [Pols emphasis]
Reliable sources now tell us that national Republican strategist Karl Rove was intimately involved in the maneuvering to push Ken Buck out of the Senate race and replace him with Cory Gardner. You'll recall that Rove was in Colorado one week ago for an unpublicized fundraiser for Rep. Mike Coffman–his presence there last week has been confirmed to us by numerous sources. We of course don't know what Rove's full schedule in the state was last week, but we can't ignore his presence here immediately prior to these dramatic events in the Colorado U.S. Senate race.
In addition to bringing in a more competitive challenger, we're told that Rove is particularly disdainful of Ken Buck, and made no secret of his contempt for the former frontrunner in the Republican primary. Buck's narrow loss in 2010 after a huge Republican investment would easily account for this view from Rove–and Rove's dissing of Buck could help explain why the "swap" of Buck for Gardner in CD-4 appears to not be anything like a done deal.
Bottom line: if this seemed like such a Machiavellian sea change that only someone on the order of Karl Rove could have plotted and engineered it, you might be more right than you ever suspected.