Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) was already in hassle this November. However with a looming Supreme Court docket affirmation battle anticipated to wrap up proper earlier than November 3, Gardner may have sealed his personal destiny.
The primary-term Republican senator from Colorado has lengthy been seen as one in every of Republicans’ most weak incumbents. Gardner beat a Democratic incumbent in 2014 partly by promising to be “a new kind of Republican” — one who would work with Democrats and assist clear power.
Now, President Donald Trump appears to be like to be Gardner’s largest legal responsibility in an more and more blue state.
“Gardner is one of the best incumbents [Republicans] have running, it’s just that he’s running in one of the toughest states for them,” stated Prepare dinner Political Report Senate editor Jessica Taylor, who lately moved Prepare dinner’s Colorado Senate race ranking from a toss-up to Lean Democratic. Colorado was solidly Republican, however an inflow of younger, liberal voters has turned the state blue.
Trump is trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden by greater than 11 factors in FiveThirtyEight’s common of Colorado polls, and polling averages present Gardner working greater than 7 factors behind Democrat John Hickenlooper, the previous governor of Colorado, former mayor of Denver, and, briefly, a 2020 presidential candidate. Hickenlooper hasn’t run an ideal marketing campaign, and Republican assaults on him have narrowed the polls barely. However up to now, it hasn’t been sufficient to beat the steep odds Gardner faces.
Former governor of Colorado, former mayor of Denver, and former 2020 presidential candidate John Hickenlooper in 2019.Charlie Neibergall/AP
“I think there will be a slice of the electorate who will vote for Joe Biden over Donald Trump but will vote for Cory Gardner as well if they can be convinced he’s been an effective senator for Colorado,” stated Dick Wadhams, a Colorado Republican strategist and former chair of the state GOP. “That’s Cory’s only path for victory.”
An in any other case middle-of-the-road Republican earlier than Trump got here alongside, Gardner has tried to straddle two sides of many points. He lately ran an advert that confirmed him sitting subsequent to his mom — a most cancers survivor — and touting a well being care invoice of his that might defend these with preexisting situations. The advert failed to say Gardner’s preexisting situations invoice has no co-sponsors, or that he voted for a GOP invoice to exchange the Inexpensive Care Act, which might have eradicated these protections.
And after refusing to verify President Obama’s Supreme Court docket nominee Merrick Garland in spring of 2016 on the grounds that it was an election 12 months, Gardner and different Republicans jumped on the likelihood to verify a Trump substitute for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, simply six weeks earlier than a presidential election. (Gardner’s marketing campaign didn’t reply to Vox’s request for remark.)
“He’s twisting himself in knots,” Colorado Republican pollster Dave Flaherty informed Vox. “Justice Ginsburg’s death is an example. l think that is going to be hard to get away from; that is going to hurt him.”
Gardner struggles to articulate the place he really stands
By the requirements of a usually gridlocked Senate, Cory Gardner notched a notable bipartisan achievement in 2020.
He was the principle Senate sponsor of the bipartisan Nice American Outside Act — a invoice to completely fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provides the Nationwide Parks Service almost $2 billion per 12 months for the subsequent 5 years for it to maintain much-needed upkeep. The invoice handed the Senate and was signed into legislation by Trump this summer time.
“Those two things together make it easily one of the most significant conservation wins in decades,” stated Mike Saccone, adviser to the Nationwide Wildlife Federation Motion Fund. “The funny thing about Washington these days is the parties can’t agree on anything except conservation issues.”
“Gardner is one of the best incumbents [Republicans] have running, it’s just that he’s running in one of the toughest states for them”
Conservation is a broadly well-liked subject in Colorado, a state with greater than eight million acres of public lands. In accordance with the 2020 Conservation within the West ballot, almost 70 p.c of Coloradans think about themselves conservationists, and 81 p.c say that clear water, clear air, wildlife, and public lands are necessary points to them when contemplating political candidates to assist. Local weather change can also be a serious subject for the state, which noticed its largest wildfire in state historical past this summer time. The Pine Gulch Hearth burned about 139,000 acres in two completely different counties, spurred by drought, dry vegetation, and sizzling summer time temperatures.
“[Gardner] works really hard on this public lands piece because it’s the only thing Republicans can stomach,” stated Jeff Navin, the previous deputy chief of workers on the US Division of Power below the Obama administration. “Will that help him? Yeah, but there’s a huge difference between protecting public lands and climate change.”
Local weather is a matter the place Gardner has a decidedly combined report. He has overtly stated he believes in local weather change, one thing that units him other than many Republicans, and he ran on selling renewable power in his first Senate race in 2014. One in all his adverts confirmed him standing subsequent to large windmills, touting his assist for the state’s renewable power market and pure gasoline alike.
“What’s a Republican like me doing at a wind farm?” Gardner requested within the 2014 advert. “Supporting the next generation, that’s what.”
However as senator, Gardner’s report isn’t as clear-cut. Although he’s supported payments selling renewable power and has fought to extend funding for the US Division of Power’s Nationwide Renewable Power Laboratory in Colorado, he additionally opposed former President Barack Obama’s Clear Energy Plan.
Gardner has opposed federal makes an attempt to control methane and CO2 emissions, together with one methane normal carried out below Hickenlooper’s management as governor, in line with the Colorado Solar. He voted to verify two Trump-appointed Environmental Safety Company heads who had been previously fossil gas lobbyists. Underneath Trump, the EPA has overseen a dramatic unwinding of quite a few environmental protections.
The president has incessantly known as local weather change a “hoax,” pulled the USA out of the Paris local weather accord, and put in oil and gasoline executives in key federal environmental positions. Trump additionally appears to have a selected vendetta towards wind energy, which he as soon as acknowledged with out proof causes most cancers.
In response to California state officers who lately urged him to take heed to local weather science when combating worsening fires, Trump stated, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
Consultants who work at climate-focused think-tanks have a variety of opinions about Gardner’s environmental report. Some say he’s in a forward-thinking minority of Senate Republicans who really wish to do one thing about renewable power.
“I think Sen. Gardner is a bellwether for how the Republican Party is evolving on climate right now, particularly in Congress,” stated Sasha Mackler, director of the Power Undertaking on the Bipartisan Coverage Heart. “He seems not afraid to use the term climate change, and I think he’s been evolving in his position on the issue.”
Others are much less forgiving.
“Cory Gardner, unfortunately he is the example of a Republican Party that has fallen in lockstep behind a maniac,” stated Josh Freed, the founding father of the Local weather and Power Program at center-left assume tank Third Method. “Gardner is saying to Coloradans, ‘Don’t pay attention to my entire record; pay attention to this one thing.’ Gardner is the neighbor whose willful negligence caused your house to burn down, and he knocks on the door to apologize by bringing you a potted plant.”
These in Colorado who’ve labored with Gardner prior to now say the senator twisting himself in knots will not be uncommon.
“I know Cory and I served with him,” stated former Colorado Home Majority Chief Alice Madden, a Democrat. “He has been the king of trying to make everybody happy without doing a lot.”
Colorado residents collect exterior Sen. Cory Gardner’s workplace to name for Gardner to oppose a vote on filling the US Supreme Court docket emptiness till after the election and inauguration. Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Submit through Getty Pictures
Even with Gardner’s work on the Nice American Outside Act, he hasn’t supported the CORE Act, a Colorado-focused public lands invoice sponsored by his Democratic colleague Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). Moderately than opposing it outright, Gardner has as an alternative left the invoice hanging with out taking a place, in line with a number of sources.
“I’ve often had a more difficult time nailing down where his position actually is,” stated Jonathan Houck, a commissioner in Colorado’s Gunnison County. “He doesn’t seem to engage at a level that’s easy to discern off the bat, it takes some digging to get there.”
As a county commissioner, Houck has labored with politicians from each events. He plans to assist Hickenlooper’s Senate bid, citing Hickenlooper’s partnership as governor to assist defend a uncommon species of sage grouse within the native space.
“I’m also supporting him because he’s done the work here,” Houck stated. “The western and eastern parts of the state are sparsely populated. When John Hickenlooper was governor, he was governor of the whole state and he didn’t forget about rural folks out here.”
Hickenlooper is placing bipartisanship on the forefront of his 2020 pitch to voters
John Hickenlooper gave nationwide Democrats a quick scare final 12 months when he first demurred on a Senate run to as an alternative pursue a bid for president (one in every of a whopping area of 27 candidates).
Hickenlooper cuts a distinctly Colorado profile, as a former geologist who began a craft brewery with pals within the 1980s. He entered politics, changing into mayor of Denver after which governor. After a mixed 16 years of govt expertise, Hickenlooper initially was hesitant to run for Senate, the place he’d be simply one in every of 50 senators in a physique the place management makes the majority of the choices on what payments make it to the ground.
“This is one of the things that a couple of my neighbors and an old friend Ken Salazar [a former US Senator from Colorado], this was how they persuaded me and got me excited about running,” he informed Vox in a latest interview. “The skills that you need to be successful in the Senate are exactly the skills you need to be successful as a mayor, as a governor, and as a small business owner … You’ve got to get people to work together. There’s no other choice!”
That is Hickenlooper’s fundamental political message — one which has largely stayed constant all through his political tenure. He’s a average, and he’s working on his historical past of bringing reverse political sides in Colorado collectively on a number of points, from Medicaid enlargement to environmental laws to seize methane emissions. Regardless of scant proof that Senate Republicans are prepared to work with the opposite aspect, Hickenlooper is stubbornly optimistic that he’ll be capable to make bipartisanship occur if he’s elected to the Senate.
“Maybe I’m going to be cruelly disappointed. But I don’t think so,” he informed Vox. “I think this is that moment in time where the American people have had enough, that they’ve been pushed into these two tribal camps that won’t speak to each other. If Steve Bullock wins in Montana, and Mark Kelly wins in Arizona, and I win — we’re going to have 10 Democratic senators from the Rocky Mountain West. We are pragmatic. We are problem solvers, by nature.”
Former Democratic presidential candidate and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to reporters on June 26, 2019, in Miami, Florida.Drew Angerer/Getty Pictures
I pressed Hickenlooper on whether or not he’d think about curbing or eliminating the Senate filibuster ought to Republicans within the minority use the 60-vote threshold to dam laws. Whereas Hickenlooper emphasised he needs to search out bipartisan pathways first, “If push comes to shove, I have to look at everything. There’s no question.”
“I’m not naive, and don’t think that I don’t recognize that Mitch McConnell is an immovable barrier to collaboration in the Senate,” he added. “For the last long period of time, he has staked his reputation on making sure that nobody ever works with anybody else.”
Trump’s unpopularity may be an excessive amount of for Gardner to beat
Although Hickenlooper is working on his affable picture as governor, Republicans have nonetheless landed some punches throughout this marketing campaign. They’ve homed in on the Colorado state Unbiased Ethics Fee’s $2,750 worth of fines on two expenses that Hickenlooper had accepted unlawful presents as governor.
Hickenlooper didn’t attraction the choice, and a marketing campaign spokesperson informed Vox this summer time that he “accepts the Commission’s findings and takes responsibility.”
Political analysts say the fallout has narrowed the race from double digits to excessive single digits. However the total political state of affairs in Colorado remains to be much more dire for Gardner. Although he’s the incumbent, Gardner has recently been left wanting an increasing number of just like the challenger in a race the place he’s behind — hitting Hickenlooper with a spate of damaging adverts coming from his personal marketing campaign.
Sen. Cory Gardner introduces President Trump throughout a rally on February 20 in Colorado Springs.Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Submit through Getty Pictures
“The fact Gardner has to spend hard-earned dollars to do the negative on his own is an interesting observation [of] where outside money is in a very long list of Republicans that need to be defended by Mitch,” stated Flaherty, the Colorado-based Republican pollster.
Even when Gardner has a notable conservation invoice within the Nice American Outside Act, it’s getting misplaced within the day-to-day information concerning the Supreme Court docket affirmation battle and no matter Trump says. This week, the president refused to say whether or not he’d settle for a peaceable switch of energy if he loses the presidential election. Gardner wants Trump voters to win, however he can also’t win with out pulling in some Biden crossover voters as properly.
“If Trump moves toward losing the state by 10 points, it makes it virtually impossible for Cory to win,” stated Wadhams, the previous Colorado GOP chair. “He’s got to keep it close enough so Cory can move some of those Biden voters to him in the general.”
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