Can the Pill Give Republican Senate Challenger an Edge in Colorado?

In perhaps the strongest response to advertisements that have hammered on U.S. Senate-candidate Cory Gardner’s “personhood’ stance, Gardner of Colorado is now proposing in his own advertisements that birth control pills should be made available over the counter.

Depending upon whom you talk to, Gardner’s proposal is perceived either as a firm assertion of the Colorado congressman’s ability to moderate his politics – or as an effort to carve out some safe ground in the arena of women’s reproductive rights.

Gardner and his incumbent opponent, Sen. Mark Udall (D), have dueled in a number of noteworthy areas, including those of energy (“Sen. Udall’s record is littered with anti-energy policies,” says Gardner) and immigration (“Congressman Gardner … even rejected his own party’s modest efforts to reform our broken system,” said Udall spokesman Chris Harris). But the drumbeat on the broad issue of personhood/pro-life/women’s reproductive rights/health care has been particularly persistent on both sides.

One political analyst, Nathan Gonzales of Rothenberg Political Report, described the recent proposal by Gardner as “a strong defensive maneuver” and not necessarily an arena in which the Republican Gardner would normally want to be engaged.

“The Republicans realize a discussion on abortion, personhood or reproductive rights is not one they want to have,” he said. He added, “I don’t think he (Gardner) would have unveiled this idea if he hadn’t been attacked by Udall on it.”

But he did, and in a sort of one-two punch designed to solidify his position on healthcare vis-à-vis his opponent, the Gardner camp tipped off the media to an apparent contradiction by Udall in 2008. In that public statement six years ago, Udall said he was not in favor of a government-sponsored solution to the country’s healthcare problems. Later, of course, Udall voted in favor of the Affordable Healthcare Act; now Gardner says Udall was “elected on a lie.”

Udall’s camp did not respond to questions about this election-on-a-lie, but a fact-checking group suggested to the Denver Post that there is technically no “lie,” because Obamacare is not “government sponsored” in the European sense of the phrase.

Meanwhile, the new pills-over-the-counter advertisements have Gardner asserting that his solution to women’s reproductive healthcare issues falls into the category of common sense, mass appeal. In those new advertisements, Gardner says, “What’s the difference between me and Mark Udall on contraception? I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, round-the-clock, without a prescription — cheaper and easier, for you.”

In response to the claim that Gardner’s proposal is just a “defensive maneuver,” Gardner spokesperson Matt Connelly said, “Cory wants to take politics out of the issue. The plan provides more freedom and lowers cost for women.”

Earlier in this race, the issue of women’s reproductive rights became a hot one with the Hobby Lobby decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision determined that closely held businesses could control the availability of contraceptives for employees when the contraceptives were part of a business-sponsored healthcare plan.

While the decision seemed to lean in Gardner’s favor in relation to his stance on personhood, he immediately distanced himself by setting the stage for the recent over-the-counter contraceptives proposal. He said in June that he wanted to “move quickly to make oral contraceptives available to adults without a prescription.”

Of note, at least two other Republican candidates on the federal level have joined Gardner in the call for OTC contraceptives. They are Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Mike McFadden in Minnesota, both running against Democratic incumbents for the U.S. Senate.

Gonzales speculated that the Democrats would rather discuss the broader issue of making those contraceptives available at no charge (or minimal charge) via employer-sponsored healthcare plans, with an eye toward benefiting the women who can’t afford it. So Gardner is essentially dipping his toe into the waters of women’s reproductive healthcare.

“Cory Gardner can’t win the race by being pigeon-holed as a typical Republican,” Gonzales said. “He has to appeal to the voters in the middle.”

Another example of Gardner’s effort to appeal to the moderate and unaffiliated voters, Gonzales said, is Gardner’s recent reminders on TV that it has been Gardner, not Udall, who has recently supported legislation that would encourage the production of natural gas and keep energy prices low. Gardner makes those statements while standing in one of Colorado’s numerous wind farms, which are notoriously embraced by the most left-leaning voters.

“I think Colorado is a great race, one of the most competitive in the country,” said Gonzales.