Republicans have been bullish on turning Colorado from a blue to purpl statee since three things happened; 1) liberals pushed an anti-fracking amendment, 2) Governor Hickenlooper and the legislature passed new gun control restrictions and 3) Corey Gardner got the party’s nod to face Senator Udall and Bob Beauprez getting the nod to face Governor Hickenlooper. Several months ago neither of these nominees were likely to have made it this far.
Gardner, a two term Congressman, had rejected repeated party attempts to get him to run. But spurred by Udall’s sagging numbers and the possibility of making it to the Senate Gardner changed his mind. Beauprez, a former Congressman defeated in 2006 in his run for Governor, was widely expected to lose to former Congressman and conservative firebrand Tom Tancredo in the primary. Tancredo split the Colorado GOP in 2010 when he run for Governor as an Independent. Initially, Tancredo appeared to be the clear favorite of the Colorado GOP, but as the campaign progressed Bueaprez garnered enough conservative and establishment support to defeat Tancredo.
Since Gardner declared (before the primary) Republicans were optimistic about Colorado. Despite the state’s purple sheen it has a sizeable suburban population that can easily swing races. The state’s Hispanic population also does not historically turn out in midterms. Gardner, a soft-spoken conservative who has neither endorsed nor opposed immigration reform, seemed the best candidate to galvanize conservative support without enraging the state’s Hispanic population.
Polls have consistently shown a close race (though Udall has led in most). A NBC/Marist poll came out earlier in the week showing Udall with a seven point lead. But Udall’s s lead in the poll was misleading. A majority of respondents were opposed to Obamacare and voters have a more favorable view of Gardner. They also sided with Gardner on energy issues. In short, as the electorate gets engaged it is quite plausible they could increasingly turn to Gardner.
A larger survey conducted by Quinnipiac, released on Friday, heralded even better news for the GOP. The poll found Gardner leading Udall 44%-42%. While Udall led among Independents, Republicans were more excited to vote and a larger share of the electorate. Perhaps more importantly, Gardner was more trusted to handle the needs of the middle class. Dragging down Udall is the President’s abysmal 39/58 approval rating in the state. Even better for state Republicans, Beauprez led Hickenlooper 44%-43%.
Unlike blue leaning states like Michigan, Colorado appears to be going the GOP’s way. More like Iowa, the state leans rightward in midterm cycles and leftward during Presidential cycles. With a number of Democratic Senators remaining competitive in conservative states and New Hampshire and Michigan refusing to move towards the GOP, Colorado is an integral part of the GOP’s path to the Senate majority.
Republicans have struggled to win statewide elections in Colorado. In 2010, the party blew a sure thing against Senator Michael Bennett. Prior Senate elections have not been much kinder to the party even as the state voted for Republican Presidential candidates until 2008. This split personality should offer the GOP hope that they can turn the tables on Democrats. Gardner may just be the right candidate to make it happen.