WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) faces daunting odds in his quest to win reelection next year—and if he fails, that might cause Republicans to lose control of the Senate, with major ramifications for the nation.
In other words, Coloradans just might have the power to help determine control of the Senate, where Republicans currently hold 53 of the chamber’s 100 seats.
Squarely at the center of this is a wounded President Donald Trump, who may be impeached by the House. Even if Trump then is found not guilty by the GOP-controlled Senate, his scandal-scarred tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue might taint fellow Republican Gardner as he asks voters in the Centennial State to keep him in the upper chamber of Congress.
One measure of Gardner’s shaky standing is an Emerson College poll that predicts he would be pummeled at the polls by his likely opponent, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who recently withdrew his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Emerson poll shows if the election were held now, Hickenlooper would demolish Gardner by a gaping 13-point margin, 53 to 40 percent. (Other voters polled were undecided.)
The Cook Political Report sees Gardner’s chances of winning another term on Capitol Hill as no better than even, a toss-up. That showing contrasts with 16 other Republican senators up for reelection, whom Cook found voters are solid, likely or leaning to giving the senators another term in office.
Cook rates only two other Republican senators facing reelection as a toss-up, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Martha McSally of Arizona.
Jennifer E. Duffy, senior editor with the Cook Political Report, evaluated Gardner’s strengths and weaknesses in an interview.
Trump is a factor, and Duffy observed that, importantly, the raging impeachment controversy involves something Trump did recently in the Oval Office, not long-ago controversies dating back to before the 2016 election.
In a phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Trump suggested an investigation would be warranted into activities of Trump’s possible Democratic opponent in the election next year, former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.
“The phone call changed everything,” Duffy added. It is likely to form the key charges in any articles of impeachment.
Critics say Trump is asking a foreign leader to interfere in a U.S. election, seeing that as an impeachable offense.
Fortunately for Gardner, Duffy said, “You’re not going to see Trump (campaigning) in Colorado. That helps.”
In the 2016 election, Trump was defeated in Colorado by Democrat Hillary Clinton by five percentage points.
Gardner did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s Troubles Could Become Gardner’s Problems
In some ways, the senator’s weak showing would appear to be dismaying. Gardner, who is just 45 years old and already holds the Senate seat, should be facing a long, bright career in politics.
For example, his positions on some issues are likely to appeal to many independents and even Democrats, such as favoring a proposal to permit states to legalize marijuana, authoring a bill to ensure cannabis businesses can obtain services at banks, and Gardner’s making critical comments on the hazards of vaping.
He also stated, “I disagree” with Trump, who once attacked Democratic women of color, Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
But Gardner has to overcome the Trump factor.
One example: Gardner proudly announced that Trump promised the senator that no money would be taken from an improvement project at the Space Control Facility at Peterson AFB.
But then the Peterson money was taken to help pay for Trump’s border wall. Seems Trump carefully promised not to touch fiscal 2019 money—but the $8 million was appropriated in a prior year.
Another item: Trump has praised Gardner lavishly.
But Trump now is facing likely impeachment in the House, and this will likely involve months of dirty laundry being brought to light going into the election year.
So the question becomes, is it a positive or a negative for Gardner to be given a tweet hug by a president who is facing deep reelection and impeachment troubles of his own?
Even before the impeachment issue exploded in Washington, Trump has scored a lackluster performance in Colorado. Emerson polling ranks Trump at a dismal 54 percent disapproval rating among Colorado voters, against just 39 percent approving.
And Trump’s troubles could become Gardner’s problems. If, as seems likely, the House sends articles of impeachment to the Senate, and the Senate as a 100-member jury tries Trump on those allegations, how will Gardner vote? Will his vote be seen favorably Coloradans, particularly election-swaying Unaffiliated voters?
Margaret Taylor, a fellow in government studies at the Brookings Institution think tank, speaking at a Brookings panel discussion on impeachment Sept. 30, assessed the multi-faceted situation facing the Republican senator from a divided state.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky above all wants the GOP to retain control of the upper chamber in the general election in November next year, Taylor said.
While some Trump supporters hope the Senate might just ignore any House-passed articles of impeachment, McConnell rejected that possibility, saying the Senate would act on them.
So Gardner likely will have to cast that difficult vote on Trump’s guilt or innocence.
McConnell has “some vulnerable Republicans in purple states like Cory Gardner, Susan Collins (of Maine),” Taylor observed. “The most important thing, I suspect, to Mitch McConnell is to guard his (Republican) majority in the Senate so he can remain majority leader” in the next Congress that will be seated in January 2021.
And here, Gardner becomes a huge figure.
McConnell will talk to Gardner and Collins to see if there is a way for the Senate to resolve the issue without endangering the two troubled senators, Taylor predicted.
The GOP Senate leader “will be looking to his vulnerable Republicans to see what it is they want to do,” the political expert continued.
McConnell “will be looking at (Gardner and Collins) to understand how it is the vulnerable Republicans will be able to make the case to their constituents about how they voted” as the Senate decides Trump’s guilt or innocence of high crimes and misdemeanors, she said.
Bottom line, Colorado could turn out to be decisive in determining whether Republicans hang on to control of the Senate and all that goes with it, such as the power to confirm top government officials and federal judges.
Surveying the turmoil in Washington DC and beyond, the Cook Report’s Duffy said she once waited to see how bad things would become, and wondered when they would hit bottom, but “there was no bottom. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”