GOP’s Gardner defeats Udall in animated US Senate race
GREENWOOD VILLAGE — Republican Rep. Cory Gardner on Tuesday defeated first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in one of the priciest U.S. Senate races in the nation.
The race helped tip the U.S. Senate to Republican control and showed that the GOP can win in diverse, fast-growing states like Colorado that have rejected the party for much of the Barack Obama administration.
Republicans had not won a top-of-the-ticket race in Colorado since 2004. But the report that the two-term congressman from the rural eastern slice of the state had ousted Udall, a member of an iconic western political family, spread elation across GOP ranks.
A ‘Charming Guy’
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“Republicans across the state are celebrating for the first time on election night for a long time,” said GOP consultant Katy Atkinson. Gardner, she added, “is a personable, likable, charming guy and negatives couldn’t stick to him.”
Udall certainly tried, hammering Gardner for months on his past support for measures that would grant legal rights to fertilized eggs, outlawing abortion and possibly some forms of birth control. After Gardner jumped into the race in late February, he quickly disavowed one of those proposals and then suggested allowing birth control pills to be bought over-the-counter.
A relentlessly on-message politician, Gardner repeatedly tied Udall to President Barack Obama. His campaign also called him “a new kind of Republican,” and the images it issued made him seem more like a Democrat — standing in front of a wind farm, walking through a mountain forest. It also played up his relative youth — Gardner is 40 years old — to Udall’s 64 years of age and 16 years in Washington, D.C.
Even some Democrats began privately grumbling about the Udall campaign’s relentless focus on reproductive rights in the race’s final weeks.
But Udall was using a tactic that has helped Democrats stay in power in Colorado over the past decade: Use social issues to paint Republicans as too extreme, especially to the abortion rights-supporting suburban women who usually decide Colorado elections.
That’s how Sen. Michael Bennet won re-election in 2010 against Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, and with Bennet chairing the Democratic group that helps Senate candidates, it became the prototype for the party’s campaigns across the country.
In an irony, Buck on Tuesday won Gardner’s old congressional seat.
Voters Tuesday cited party loyalty in their choices in the race.
Michael Laughlin, 58, of Denver said he voted for Udall in hopes Democrats would keep control on the Senate.
“My biggest hope is that we don’t do more damage than we’ve already done,” he said. “A Republican Senate could turn back the hands of time in a number of different areas,” such as civil rights and the economy.
Julie English said she voted for Gardner in hopes of steering the country to the right.
“It’s gone far to the left,” said English, 54, who lives in the Denver suburb of Arvada. “Under this administration, it’s totally going the opposite of what this country is founded on.”