Cory Gardner’s political obituary was written the moment the Washington elite of the Democratic Party crowned John Hickenlooper the man who would be king.
Problem is, Gardner’s political life just won’t die.
Political circles were jolted by a recent poll by Morning Consult showing Cory has catapulted to within 6 points of Hick.
That’s just not supposed to happen. He was supposed to be behind by double digits like they said he was a few months ago.
The same poll showed that Donald Trump was still down by some 13 points in Colorado. Why doesn’t Gardner have the good manners to do the same?
Some elections are battles of inches, a bloody fight for a few voters here and there. This might be one.
In order to have a path to win Gardner needs every single vote from the conservative base, including Trump lovers, while tapping into the mass of Trump-loathing unaffiliated voters.
In other words, he has to dance on a tightrope. And so far he’s been performing better than Cirque du Soleil.
Start with something that didn’t happen. Cory Gardner didn’t face a primary challenger.
You might be thinking, well duh, he’s an incumbent, they don’t get challenged. May I remind you that Colorado Republicans suffer from a special type of intra-party dysfunction. Destructive primaries are the norm.
It was Republican Party dysfunction that handed Hickenlooper the governorship on a platter in the first place.
In 2010, when Republicans had an unlosable 9-point lead on the generic ballot, Tea Party insurgent and political scam artist Dan Maes scraped a primary win over former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis as Tom Tancredo left the party to run on another ticket. Maes went on to clear a jaw-dropping, dejected 11% of the vote on election day.
Only Republicans can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory like that.
A year ago there was a fair amount of chatter from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party about primarying Gardner. So, Cory connected with many of those critics personally to hear out their concerns and frankly pay them some respect they deserve, that often they don’t get from the establishment.
The primary never was.
By contrast Hickenlooper had to spend precious early money for a primary. And while he won it handily, he had to move toward the progressive base of his party. Drinking fracking fluid (quite literally in case you don’t remember) and flying around in private jets makes one more Hillary Clinton than Bernie. Go figure.
Now it is a race to the unaffiliated for both men. And as the recent poll shows, Gardner’s making sizable movement. Mind you, it sure helps he hasn’t been found guilty of ethics charges.
It also helps that he isn’t afraid to break with fellow Colorado Republicans. The “Great American Outdoors Act” is a perfect example. This is a signature piece of legislation for Gardner which secures billions of ongoing funding for national parks and conservation efforts.
The legislation, which Trump will sign into law shortly, caused sizable Republican defections. All three of Colorado’s Republican congressmen voted against it while all four Democrats voted for it. This simply doesn’t fit the narrative of an eco-hating conservative. I suppose Gardner could sip some fracking fluid to make up for it.
He’s also scored other pro-environment victories that will warm middle voters. Relocating the Bureau of Land Management out of Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction on Colorado’s West Slope was applauded by folks who like those in charge of the land to actually be close to it.
Gardner also gets to take credit for making good on a promise John F. Kennedy made to build a water project in the Arkansas Valley in southeastern Colorado. Promoting JFK’s legacy while bringing water to thirsty parts of the state won’t repel unaffiliated voters.
There is no question that Cory Gardner is the underdog in this race, and given the state’s anti-Trump sentiment there’s little wonder. But hating Trump doesn’t mean swing voters want to hand the Senate to a President Biden.
If Hickenlooper’s lethargic campaign continues to prove what he said in the first place, “I’m not cut out to be a senator,” don’t be surprised when this turns into a real race.
An energetic and affable Gardner might give swing voters a reason to split their ticket.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.