Both Rep. Cory Gardner and Rep. Mike Coffman made headlines this week for coming about against the current Personhood proposal that will appear on Colorado’s 2014 ballot. Both Coffman and Gardner are reversing past stances that were in favor of similar proposals.
The Personhood amendment would grant “personhood” status to a fertilized egg. Similar forms of the Personhood amendment have lost by a three to one margin in the 2008 and 2010 elections.
Critics from both sides of the aisle quickly pounced on the flip flop and predictably criticized the move.
I can’t imagine that neither Gardner nor Coffman expected anything less, but when the dust settles, and it will, the move should pay off well for both of them.
As damning as a flip flop tag is, what’s more damning is being tagged as “too extreme for women”. Ask Ken Buck how that tag feels on the campaign trail.
It may be hard to believe, but the change in stances from Gardner and Coffman on the Personhood Amendment is not about abortion. In fact, both men still consider themselves pro-life, but they feel the Personhood ballot issue is flawed.
Pro-life activists may feel snubbed by the reversal, but the fact is that Coffman and Gardner, if elected, will be faithful to the pro-life movement. While not as purist as to agree with the stipulations of the Personhood amendment, they are not suddenly poster boys for Planned Parenthood.
The alternative for pro-life voters would be to see either Mark Udall or Andrew Romanoff win their respective elections and vote fairly reliably pro-choice.
In the end, Gardner and Coffman inoculate themselves from predictable attacks that they are too extreme for women.
The “too extreme for women” claims can be misleading, because as a gender, women are as diverse as any group of voters. The reaction to the change of opinion on Personhood shows that in fact, Coffman and Gardner are not extreme enough for some women.
However, as Ken Buck learned in 2010, the “extreme” impression can be very effective in a campaign. It was important for both Gardner and Coffman, neither facing a serious primary opponent, to start to trend to the middle. By not tying themselves to the Personhood Amendment, they can take some of the extreme social issues out of the conversation.
Democrats will make as much hay about the flip flop as they can, but that well will run dry fairly soon. Gardner’s campaign was genius in bringing up how Mark Udall flip flopped on the same sex marriage issue just a few years back when announcing the change in Gardner’s stance.
Changing one’s opinion as an elected leader or a candidate is a tricky thing. Voters want the best of both worlds, an independent thinker but one that is totally predictable and never changes their minds.
The only winning move for candidates is to remember that a campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. When looking at the long journey, it’s important to dump any extra weight as early in the race as possible and keep yourself as nimble as possible.
Coffman and Gardner may sting for a week or two for this move, but in the end, they’ve better prepared themselves for the marathon ahead.
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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.