POLITICS: PennAve

Cory Gardner expands Senate campaign map for Republicans

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This article was originally published at 3:21 p.m. on March 6.

Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner is using all of the politically correct buzzwords and phrases to explain why he decided to reverse course and challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in November.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, the second-term Republican congressman talked about providing leadership where it's needed most, countering Democratic overreach and returning balance to independent-minded Colorado, and providing relief to the thousands in his state who have been hurt by Obamacare and a sluggish economy.

But what Gardner left largely unsaid was that, unlike last summer when he announced that he would forgo a Senate bid to seek re-election to his safely drawn and mostly rural northern Colorado House seat, he now believes Udall is beatable.

Few could have blamed him for biding his time. Gardner is only 39 years old and is considered a rising political figure in Colorado. There’s no reason to wage a quixotic bid against Udall, the scion of a Democratic family dynasty who hails from Boulder, just outside of Denver. Udall’s cousin is Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.; his father represented Arizona in Congress for 30 years; his uncle served in Congress and in the Kennedy administration.

So what changed?

Gardner said he began to reconsider last fall after his family’s privately purchased health insurance plan was canceled because it did not comply with Obamacare’s new coverage requirements. The congressman then watched as the Centennial State GOP prosecuted a successful campaign to recall two Democrats from the Colorado legislature. By early February, he and his wife decided to pull the trigger.

Following is an edited version of the Examiner's telephone interview with Gardner:

Washington Examiner: Why did you change your mind and decide to run for Senate?

Gardner: Thirty-five thousand Coloradoans had their health plans canceled, and instead of calling on President Obama [to do something about it] the Democrats called all of us liars. Mark Udall voted 99 percent of the time with President Obama… So, my wife said, you can stay in the House and get re-elected or you can make a difference by running for the Senate.

Examiner: What will this contest be fought over?

Gardner: There is no doubt this campaign will be about Mark Udall’s 99 percent voting record with Barack Obama and [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D-Nev.]. He’s voted against the basic values of Colorado; Obamacare is going to be a large part of that.

Examiner: Colorado has been trending Democratic, with the party bolstering its ranks in the statehouse while winning the two most recent elections for president, governor and Senate. Why do you believe Coloradoans are ready to vote Republican in a statewide race for the first time since 2004?

Gardner: Look at what’s happened in Colorado in the past few years. We’ve seen two state senators recalled, and a third resigned before they could face a recall; we’ve seen a massive tax increase — Gov. [John] Hickenlooper and Mark Udall supported this tax increase — and [the ballot measure] went down by 66 percent. If that’s not a rejection of liberal overreach then I don’t know what is.

Examiner: Democrats are probably going to attack you and your policies as being bad for women. It’s a strategy that worked well for them in 2010 when Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., won re-election despite the national Republican wave.

Gardner: This is the same old play from the same old playbook and the people of Colorado are going to see through it. They are truly panicked about this race.

Examiner: The Colorado Republican Party has been among the more divided state parties in recent years, among its other problems. Why will this year be any different?

Gardner: We have had some challenges. But this year we’re going to have a unified front. We’ve got a good group of gubernatorial candidates and we’re going to really be able to present a Colorado-based ticket. Voters are going to say, we’re tired of the liberal overreach, we want something new; we want something fresh. The path to victory is there.

I don’t think labels apply in Colorado. I’ve never viewed Colorado as a red, blue or purple state. If there’s an overreach, whether by Republicans or Democrats, the voters of Colorado have a tendency to bring that back in, and we’re seeing that now.

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