DENVER (AP) – Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign says it raised $2 million in the first quarter of the year, transforming the Democrat’s re-election bid against a tough opponent from a low-key contest into a top-tier national race.

The campaign will file reports showing it has $5.9 million cash on hand to fight off Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who made a surprise entry into the race more than halfway through the quarter. Before Gardner’s entry, Udall had an overwhelming financial advantage on his Republican challengers, none of whom had more than $250,000 available to them.

But almost all of those challengers have bowed out, leaving the nomination clear for Gardner, who is considered a rising star in the Republican House of Representatives.

Gardner had $800,000 in his campaign account at the beginning of the year that could be used to fund his Senate race and has been focusing on fundraising since his announcement in late February. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor headlined one fundraiser for Gardner late last month, and the congressman flew to Las Vegas for a meeting of top Republican donors at a casino owned by mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Gardner’s campaign has yet to release its fundraising totals.

Polls have shown Udall narrowly ahead of most Republicans in Colorado. After Gardner’s entry, national conservative and liberal groups began airing ads in the state. Analysts predict the race will be one of the most expensive in the nation. The GOP needs to gain six seats to win the Senate majority.

– By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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