WASHINGTON – Democratic control of the U.S. Senate – already tenuous as a result of retirements and stiff Republican challenges – has become even more perilous as a result of recent events in Colorado.
In what amounts to a game of trading places, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, a Republican who intended to challenge incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in the November election, dropped out of the race to run for the congressional seat currently held by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). Gardner, in turn, jumped into the Senate race, providing Colorado Republicans with a significantly better chance of capturing Udall’s seat.
Gardner, 39, of Yuma, who won a second term with 58.4 percent of the vote in his Republican-leaning district in 2012, is, according to Buck, “in the strongest position” to defeat Udall, who finds himself tarnished by his association with President Obama, whose popularity continues to plummet, and his support for the Affordable Care Act.
A Quinnipiac University Poll, taken in February before the switcheroo, showed Colorado voters split over Udall, with 44 percent saying they approved of his performance and 44 percent giving him a thumbs-down. At the same time, Udall held a less-than-impressive three-point lead over Buck, 45 percent to 42 percent, who was considered an inferior candidate to Gardner.
An incumbent polling below 50 percent usually means trouble.
“The air is getting thinner for Democrats in the Rocky Mountains,” said Colorado Republican Committee Chairman Ryan Call. “President Obama and Sen. Udall’s broken promises and failed leadership have caused Coloradans more grief than they can manage.”
National political analysts have noted the change. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, has moved the race from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic,” commenting that “Gardner should give Udall a stiffer challenge than the other Republicans in the field.”
Colorado Democrats immediately pounced, condemning the “backroom deal” cooked up between Buck and Gardner, asserting that the GOP is looking to further strengthen its ties with the Tea Party movement.
“Given Republicans’ back-room wheeling and dealing, Coloradans will see that Cory Gardner is simply a Ken Buck-radical who is neck deep in Washington sleaze,” said Rick Palacio, the Colorado Democratic Party chairman. “Gardner is just another reckless House Republican when it comes to dismantling Social Security and Medicare, banning abortion and many types of birth control and irresponsibly putting our economy at risk to advance his political agenda.”
In a statement, the Udall campaign acknowledged Gardner, with a campaign war chest in excess of $1 million, will prove formidable.
“Cory supported the twice-defeated ‘personhood’ ballot initiative to outlaw abortion — even in the cases of rape and incest — and ban many forms of birth control,” the statement said. “He voted for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which would privatize Medicare, slash education funding, and give millionaires a $125,000 tax cut. He also joined a group of Republicans that proposed a plan to privatize Social Security.”
Gardner, the campaign said, also opposed overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the government’s ban on gays serving openly in the military.
“We must stop Cory’s momentum dead in its tracks,” it said.
In announcing his candidacy, Gardner warned that “the United States that we know is fading” and insisted “this fight is about the future, for our families, children and grandchildren.”
“Amidst big government boondoggles and unaccountable bureaucracies, the people of this country find themselves working harder and harder each and every day only to see the promise of opportunity slip further and further from their reach,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”