Rep. Cory Gardner pulled off a major coup on Wednesday, and in doing, totally reset the election conversation in Colorado.
By deciding to forego a re-election run for his Congressional seat and instead seek Mark Udall’s Senate seat, Gardner will help bring a bring national spotlight and millions of dollars to Colorado’s election this fall.
The unique facet of this move is that it seems that at least a few Republicans have finally found the time to read the book that the Democrats wrote when they took over politics in Colorado.
In 2004, former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell decided to retire and not run for re-election. Many high profile Democrats wanted the chance to replace him. Mark Udall announced that he was going to run for the seat, but two days later, after a brief but obviously productive meeting with Ken Salazar, Udall decided to not run. Salazar ran and won the seat without a bruising primary against Udall. Four years later, Udall, having waited his turn, won his own Senate seat.
Republicans have never been that good at having productive chats that result in non-bruising primaries. The GOP is much better at arranging heavyweight title fights that leave nominees licking several wounds.
But this time, Rep. Cory Gardner was able to get Ken Buck, the current front runner in the GOP primary for the 2014 Senate race, to gracefully bow out, endorse him and the decide run for the coveted 4th Congressional seat that Gardner is giving up.
It’s so genius that some may think that state Republicans have hired Democratic strategists this year.
In one afternoon, Gardner became the clear frontrunner of the Senate primary and thereby will easily attract the majority of fundraising. Unless he has some unknown skeletons in his closet, the primary is all but over.
He then hands Buck the 4th CD before any other Republican can announce that they are interested. Ken Buck, a popular Weld County District Attorney, had problems running statewide, but the 4th CD is essentially his home turf. He’s the big kahuna and with Gardner’s endorsement, any other Republican considering a primary challenge will be faced with a steep uphill battle.
Now, do not get me wrong, while Buck likely rides to an easy victory in the 4th, all Gardner did is set up a great race with Mark Udall. Udall may seem vulnerable, but he is still a formidable incumbent and he still holds a distinct fundraising advantage.
The Gardner/Udall race looks like it will come down to a very simple referendum on Obamacare. If the majority of Coloradans feel that it is a miserable failure, Gardner has a shot. If not, Gardner may look back at this month with regret.
But the point is that Gardner recognized an opportunity and decided to approach it with strategic nuance rather than simply throwing haymakers at the other Republicans in the room. Some members of the GOP have obviously been listening to their Democratic competition.
The 2014 election playing field has officially changed, and it’s only February.
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– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.