Look, we get it. We understand the idea here. Rep. Cory Gardner was obviously concerned that his longtime support of the Personhood issue — both in Colorado and in Congress — would be a significant problem in his quest to defeat incumbent Sen. Mark Udall in November. From a broader perspective, it probably seemed like a wise move to try to distance himself from his Personhood past. But Gardner and his campaign team didn't spend enough time thinking this through.
Not only has the Personhood issue failed to fade for Gardner, but his clumsy handling of the flip-flop has actually made things worse for his candidacy. And from what we hear, some high-level Republicans are quietly growing nervous about Gardner's silly mistakes.
There is plenty of evidence that it isn't working, but the most damning piece of evidence is Gardner's own posturing and kneading of his position. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow recently dedicated an entire segment of her show to discussing Gardner's flip-floppity on Personhood. You can argue the level oif impact that Maddow may have on Colorado's Senate race, but that's not really the point. If Gardner hadn't spun himself dizzy over Personhood in the last 6 weeks, Maddow would not be devoting an entire segment to Gardner right now. You've read this line before on Colorado Pols, and it's a truism in politics that applies well to Gardner's situation: This didn't have to happen this way.
Gardner dropped his Personhood flip-flop bombshell on Friday, March 21, clearly hoping that a late Friday news dump would give him some cover for his astonishing change of heart on an issue that he once "supported" so wholeheartedly that he boasted in 2010 that he carried petitions to his church in support of a Personhood ballot measure in Colorado. In a letter from his Congressional office sent to a constituent on March 17 — just four days before his flip-flop — Gardner was reaffirming his support for Personhood.
How do you know when your strategy to avoid a difficult subject has failed? When you are still talking about it six weeks later.
In an interview with Shaun Boyd of CBS4 that aired last Friday, Gardner was asked again about his position on Personhood. He responded with a very specific qualifier:
On abortion, Gardner has voted for bills with and without exceptions for rape and incest. He also sponsored the “Life Begins At Conception Act” and once supported Personhood in Colorado, something he no longer supports.
“In the State of Colorado, the Personhood Initiative I do not support,” said Gardner. [Pols emphasis] “I came to that opinion because of a number of issues including the fact that it would ban common forms of contraception.”
Note the bold part of the sentence above, where Gardner says, "In the State of Colorado…" The reason for the very specific wording in his answer is that Gardner has be a sponsor of the "Life Begins At Conception Act" in Congress, which is basically Personhood with a longer name. Gardner is saying, "In the State of Colorado…" because he is trying to patch a gaping self-inflicted wound that was clearly not well thought-out when he first went public with his flip-flop in March. As we wrote a day after Gardner's big flipperoo, trying to dump Personhood may not have been the no-brainer idea that some robotic political commentators once opined:
Put it this way: Gardner's campaign is in a worse position today than it was on Friday morning. Not only did Gardner not solve his "Personhood" problem, but he unnecessarily created new concerns for himself. He has now opened himself up to the always-effective "flip-flopper" attack, which will be particularly devastating for Gardner because there is video of him supporting "Personhood" with his own words. That problem boxes him in on a whole host of other difficult issues where his record won't align with moderate voters. From here on out, Gardner can't try to adjust his position on anything without feeding more fuel into the "flip-flopper" fire; that's very important, because the next stop after "flip-flopper" is "untrustworthy," which is extremely difficult to overcome.
It's worth pointing out, again, that Cory Gardner has won but two significant "elections" in his career, and both of them were decided by Republicans (a narrow 7-5 vacancy committee victory in 2005 that gave Gardner a safe State House seat, and a 2010 GOP Primary for the right to take on incumbent Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey in a heavily-Republican CD-4). Gardner has never even been a candidate in a highly-competitive General Election, and that lack of experience, combined with one of the most partisan records in recent memory, is proving the be exactly the problematic combination that we thought it might.
Nowhere has this played out more clearly than with the Personhood issue; not only has Gardner failed to put the issue behind him, he has actually raised more questions about where he stands on an issue that 70 percent of Colorado voters have repeatedly rejected. To make matters worse, Gardner has sufficiently angered a very active and vocal part of his Republican base — which, again, was unnecessary. What Gardner is now learning, which should have been obvious, is that you can't take a soft position on Personhood. You can't be "sort of" in favor of the idea that life begins at conception — particularly when you have sponsored similar legislation as recently as last summer. You are either in favor of Personhood, or opposed to Personhood; given Gardner's background on the issue, which Sen. Udall's campaign has documented in an infographic (after the jump), there was no way he was ever going to be able to convince people that his position had truly evolved.
The scary thing for Gardner supporters is not that their candidate has ineffectively tried to change his position on Personhood — it's that he keeps trying to explain himself, as he did with Shaun Boyd last week. Gardner opened this box of worms all on his own, and there's no closing the lid now.