(CNN) – Sen. Cory Gardner is suggesting the National Republican Senatorial Committee should stop airing a television ad attacking his Democratic opponent, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, in an unusual public rebuke of party strategy.
The ad, which criticizes Hickenlooper for accepting political donations from a company whose gas pipeline caused a deadly house explosion in Firestone in 2017, has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats and from Erin Martinez, who survived the accident. Martinez’s husband and brother both were killed.
In a statement to the Denver Post after the ad began airing, Martinez called the ad “horrifying,” and Hickenlooper and other Democrats have called on Republicans to pull it.
“Senator Gardner, I hope you’ll put politics aside and call on your allies to take down this false, negative attack,” Hickenlooper tweeted last week. “A grieving family should never be forced to relive an unimaginable tragedy.”
Now Gardner is adding his voice to those saying the ad crosses a line. In a statement, Gardner said he spoke with Martinez on Tuesday “and expressed to her that I would not have personally run the ad, and I hope the ad comes down.”
“If I had the power to take down the ad,” Gardner added, “I would.”
That power resides with the NRSC — but the committee has not suggested that it plans to stop airing the ad.
“The kind of grief Ms. Martinez and her family have survived is unimaginable, and their public fight to keep other Colorado families safe is incredibly important,” NRSC spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement. “John Hickenlooper said he was going to do the right thing to protect Colorado families right after the explosion, but then a private donation to his office from the gas company responsible changed that. He looked the other way and, as The Denver Post reported in October 2019, left office without getting the job done.”
Gardner is considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans this cycle.
Although Gardner is now distancing himself from the controversial ad, the Hickenlooper campaign says it’s not enough.
“Erin Martinez called for this despicable ad to be taken down within hours of its release six days ago,” said Hickenlooper campaign spokesperson Melissa Miller. “Cory Gardner ignored that plea, ignored her direct phone calls, let hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising run and then gave the pathetic excuse that he had no influence over the NRSC, an organization he used to run. As usual, he chose the cowardly approach over the right one.”
Gardner was chairman of the Senate GOP campaign committee during the 2018 cycle.
Meanwhile Martinez, in a statement forwarded by the Hickenlooper campaign, suggested it took Gardner too long to take a stand. “While I am glad that Sen. Gardner has finally realized the ad should be taken down, I am sorry that it has taken him and his staff more than four days to respond to my phone call and request for some relief for my family.”
“Our family’s trauma should not be the subject of a horrible political ad,” she said. “We have worked very hard to create a positive legacy for my husband Mark and my brother Joey to ensure no one relives our nightmare.”
By Rebecca Buck, CNN
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