Cory Gardner may be the most impressive candidate the Colorado GOP has come up with in at least a decade. Which, to be fair, is a lot less impressive than it sounds. A rancorous split between the conservative and moderate wings of the GOP over the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (one America’s finest state-level legislative successes) has resulted in a decade-long string of incompetent, outmatched or laughable nominees.
Gardner is not one of them. As of now, a new Quinnipiac University poll finds the U.S. Senate race between Gardner and Democrat Mark Udall in a virtually tie (as does a new PPP poll), with the latter leading 45 percent to 44 percent.
And this, to be fair, is more impressive than it sounds. The national media continues to treat Colorado as a bellwether state, a purple harbinger of national sentiment — it isn’t. Colorado is by nearly all quantifiable measures a reliably blue state: Barack Obama won Colorado twice, easily. Two unexceptional Democrat candidates won Senate seats with little trouble (one of them during the Republican tsunami year). The state house and senate have basically been in Democrats’ hands for years. Democrats have held the governorship since 2007. And large numbers of liberals have been streaming into the state to enjoy the fruits of fiscal conservative policies for more than a decade.
A win in Colorado for the GOP is an upset. And if Gardner pulls it off, it’ll have a lot to do with Obamacare. As the Quinnipiac poll tells us, ACA is underwater by a 59-37 percent margin in Colorado. And for those voters most concerned about healthcare, Udall is behind significantly (57-36). Though, Udall has plenty of other problems to contend with.
What to do?
Well, Gardner isn’t Todd Akin — or anything close to it, for that matter. And yet, if the Democrats and compliant media in Denver have its way, the dynamics of the race could play out as if he were. As soon as Gardner cleared the GOP field, Udall ran an indictment against the Republican for imaginary crimes against women. The wonky Gardner, claimed Udall, has “championed a crusade” – a crusade — to “outlaw” birth control.
For generations, brave American women have fought to secure the right to make their own health care decisions based on what they believe is right for themselves and their families. It astounds me that some still think the legality of birth control and access to reproductive health services should be subject to debate. I’ll never stop fighting to protect the rights of Colorado women because I trust them and respect the choices they make.
Now, I couldn’t find a single vote or speech or gaffe in which Gardner advocates for restrictions on birth control. Not during his time in congress or in the Colorado legislature or anywhere else, for that matter. Perhaps I missed something. Perhaps someone will soon unearth explosive video to share. Nothing in his record, though, indicates he’s a zealous culture warrior. It is true that Gardner signed onto a “personhood” amendment in Colorado a few years back to bolster his pro-life credentials. It is unlikely Gardner understood the implication of the clauses regarding abortifacient drugs. “The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position,” Gardner said, explaining the withdrawal of his support. “I’ve learned to listen. I don’t get everything right the first time. There are far too many politicians out there who take the wrong position and stick with it and never admit that they should do something different.”
It’s perfectly legitimate to point out this flip flop, of course. Yet even if he supported the entire amendment, the contention that he wants to “outlaw” birth control is untrue. But, as we all know, the conflation of abortion and contraception is meant to Akinize every race. Any little thing will do. In Colorado, Michael Bennet was able to transform Princeton-trained lawyer Ken Buck into misogynistic thug by manipulating a single out-of-context remark about “high heels.” We’ve seen countless similar attacks. Some deserved, and many others were not. Gardner won’t be immune.
What can he do? Candidates often fall into one of two traps: either patronizing women voters or complete avoidance. Democrats won’t allow avoidance. So obviously, it’ll be worth reminding Coloradans (often) that Udall, who allegedly believes the brave women of America have an enduring right to make their own health-care decisions, is a cheerleader of coerced participation in a state-run program that has separated thousands of Colorado women from their doctors. This not only highlights his hypocrisy, but makes him defend Obamacare.
And since this is a war, Gardner can do better. Instead of running from the debate, it would also be worth pointing out that as Udall is himself an extremist on the issue of abortion; a supporter of late-term abortions — a position that most Americans find repugnant. In fact, some polls show that the 20-week abortion ban is more popular among women than men. A Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of women support unrestricted abortions for only the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Only 50 percent of men support the 20-week limit. Other polls found similar results.
Maybe there’s nothing the GOP can do to win in states like Colorado. But meeting these sorts of attacks head on makes far more sense than running. The War on Women shtick will be branching out to include the minimum wage and immigration, as well as income equality – and everything else, really. And Colorado proves that it’s coming for you whether you deserve it or or not. Because even if you’re not Todd Akin, they know you really are.