Obamacare, birth control, abortion and personhood have emerged as emotional issues that could swing a Senate seat Democrats thought was safe to the GOP side of the aisle.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have already spent more than $40 million on advertising in what has turned out to be one of the toughest 2014 races for Democrats.
Rasmussen Reports and USA Today/Suffolk polls had Gardner in the lead by a single point in September, while CBS News/New York Times/YouGov put Udall in the lead by 3 points in a poll released Oct. 2.
The Fox News poll released Oct. 8 showed Gardner with a 6-point lead over Udall, 43-37 percent.
Gardner is pulling away.
And he got an extra boost on Oct. 10 when the Denver Post endorsed the Republican over the incumbent, saying, “Udall’s campaign has devoted a shocking amount of energy and money trying to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control despite the congressman’s call for over-the-counter sales of contraceptives.”
“Udall is trying to frighten voters rather than inspire them with a hopeful vision,” the editorial continued. “His obnoxious one-issue campaign is an insult to those he seeks to convince.”
More important than the raw numbers, the Fox News poll also shows GOP voters are much more enthused about voting than Democrats come November.
Among likely voters, nearly half of Colorado Republicans (48 percent) are “extremely” interested in the election, while less than a third of Democrats (31 percent) feel that way.
Gardner’s support is also stronger, according to the Fox poll. Eighty-five percent of his backers describe themselves as “certain” to vote for him compared to 80 percent of Udall voters who have the same confidence level.
The polls are more important in Colorado than in some states because mail-in ballots will be sent out to voters Oct. 14. And Colorado votes 100 percent by mail this year. In other words, a mind made up in mid-October could be a vote cast almost two weeks before the nation’s Election Day.
Jeb Bush has gotten involved on behalf of Gardner with a Spanish-language message, “Elijan a Cory Gardner.” It was one of three Spanish-language ads Bush cut for Republicans.
The others were for Rep. David Valadao in California and Martha McSally, a GOP candidate running against Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.).
Gardner needs Bush’s help with Hispanics. The Fox News poll shows Udall beats Gardner by 20 points with that demographic.
Fourteen percent of the registered voters in Colorado are Hispanic, so the Udall-Gardner race for the Senate is also one of the nation’s elections in which the Hispanic vote is critical in the 2014 cycle.
In addition to the Jeb Bush ad sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, outside groups such as Crossroads GPS have been running ads portraying Udall as a Democratic Party puppet whose strings are pulled by President Obama.
That is not a bad strategy. Obama could be the anchor that sinks Udall. The Fox News survey showed Colorado voters disapprove of the job Obama is doing by 57-36 percent.
Obamacare has emerged as one of the issues Colorado voters care about most, and more than half of them don’t like it.
The Fox News poll showed a 52 percent majority said the 2010 healthcare law “went too far,” and three-quarters of those voters are supporting Gardner.
In one of the first ads of his campaign, “Mailbox,” Gardner said his family had been personally affected by Obamacare.
“When our family’s healthcare plan was cancelled because of Obamacare last year, we felt firsthand the painful effects of Senator Udall’s support for Obamacare,” said Gardner in the ad.
The Crossroads GPS ad, “Richelle,” urged Udall to support a repeal of Obamacare in August, followed by the ad “Talk” that was released in September. Women talking in a kitchen decided in this ad that Udall has nothing left but scare tactics.
The Gardner campaign took a shot at Udall’s declining poll numbers in the TV ad “Absent,” which started running Oct. 7. The ad also took aim at Udall’s Senate attendance record, one that might make any elementary school student’s parent blush deep red.
The Udall campaign has hit back on air and off with “Deny & Distract — The Gardner Tough Question Playbook.”
Chris Harris, the Udall campaign communications director, said Gardner has been struggling to conceal his “extreme record.”
“And while the questions have been straightforward, Gardner has repeatedly deployed a cynical strategy to avoid answering questions about his radical record,” said Harris. “When he’s caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he simply denies there’s a jar there at all.”
The Udall campaign attempted to paint Gardner as an extremist in an Oct. 7 press release that accused the Republican of trying to “force his extreme, outdated agenda on Colorado.”
“He wrote a bill to make abortion a felony in cases of rape, which could punish a sexual assault victim’s doctor more severely than her rapist,” according to the Udall campaign statement. “And he voted to slash funding for law enforcement and supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
The debate over birth control and abortion has been going on for months in the Udall-Gardner election. The Udall campaign began running its “Respect” ad in May 2014.
Udall slammed Gardner for the congressman’s support of personhood bills in the Colorado legislature during one of three debates held in one week between the two politicians.
During the Oct. 7 Denver Post-sponsored debate Gardner fired back at Udall.
“It’s simply outrageous to believe that somebody would try to ban birth control,” he said. “The first time my wife and I saw the ad by Senator Udall, my wife looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Didn’t you used to pick up my prescription?’”
Gardner also said he supports over-the-counter contraceptive purchases without a prescription.
But Udall, rather than responding directly to a debate moderator’s question about late-term abortions, accused Gardner “of making a career out of trying to ban abortions.”
The Colorado Springs Gazette has endorsed Gardner and attacked Udall for keying in on social issues like abortion, describing it as a “bizarre narrative.”
However, the Durango Herald endorsed Udall because of the social arguments the Democrat’s campaign has been making and Gardner’s refusal to back down from his personhood agenda.
“Either his (Gardner) position on women’s rights is far out of the Colorado mainstream or he will say anything for a vote,” the Durango Herald wrote.