DENVER (CBS4/AP) – Rep. Cory Gardner, an influential congressman elected in the 2010 Republican wave, will challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in this year’s midterm elections, Republican officials said Wednesday.

Ken Buck, left, Rep. Cory Gardner, right (credit: CBS)

Ken Buck, left, Rep. Cory Gardner, right (credit: CBS)

The front-runner in the GOP Senate primary, District Attorney Ken Buck, confirmed Gardner’s entry in the Senate race and said he was dropping out to run for Gardner’s congressional seat.

“I have talked to Cory and I feel that he would be a great candidate for the U.S. Senate,” Buck said in an interview. “I am stepping aside so he can run against Mark Udall.”

“We need to replace Mark Udall in the Senate, and I believe Congressman Cory Gardner is in the strongest position to make that happen,” said Buck in a statement.

Sen. Mark Udall (credit: CBS)

Sen. Mark Udall (credit: CBS)

Gardner declined to comment as he left the U.S. Capitol.

The abrupt switch dramatically changes the political landscape as Democrats defend their Senate majority and Republicans battle to gain the six seats they need to control the chamber.

The news elated Republicans in Washington and Colorado, where some party members were concerned about Buck’s prospects. He narrowly lost his challenge against the state’s junior senator, Michael Bennet, in 2010.

Sen. Michael Bennet (credit: CBS)

Sen. Michael Bennet (credit: CBS)

Gardner, 39, was viewed as his party’s best challenger to Udall, but last year he said he wouldn’t enter the race. At that time, Udall was seen as having a safe seat and Gardner’s refusal to run was yet another indication that Colorado, once a Republican-leaning swing state, was trending to Democrats.

Republicans are expected to easily hold Gardner’s House seat.

“The Senate race has never been about me but about helping change the direction of the country. I hope to have the opportunity to lead the fight for limited government and fiscal responsibility as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Buck.

Dick Wadhams (credit: CBS)

Dick Wadhams (credit: CBS)

“He is exactly the kind of young, articulate, substantial Republican who can not only win a statewide election, but can break this 12-year stranglehold Democrats have had on this state,” said Dick Wadhams, former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

Gardner would enter the race with $876,000 in his House campaign account that he can immediately use in the Senate contest – more money than the other three major Republican candidates had combined.

Gardner is expected to have trouble with the Latino vote which is 30 percent of Colorado’s electorate.

One of the other GOP candidates, state Sen. Owen J. Hill, said Wednesday that Gardner had called him two weeks ago urging him to leave the race. “This is exactly why Republicans keep losing, because we’re cooking these backroom insider deals,” Hill said in an interview, vowing to stay in.

Owen Hill (credit:

Owen Hill (credit:

Hill is endorsed by several Tea Party groups which could make Gardner’s Senate bid difficult.

Matt Canter of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee said Gardner is not more moderate than Buck. Canter said Gardner “wants to decimate Medicare, slash education and even make common forms of birth control illegal.”

Udall has already raised $5 million but recent polls show he is vulnerable.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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