Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado is steering clear of questions about abortion as he prepares to ask Colorado voters next year to give him another term in the Senate—prompting one observer to say Gardner’s silent stance on the right to choose smacks of “cowardice.”
In years past, Gardner has taken clear anti-abortion positions, but voters deciding next year whether to reelect him never would know that from perusing his official Senate website.
While he lists his positions on 14 issues or categories of topics, abortion isn’t mentioned, even under health care, or a catch-all “other issues.”
The Colorado Times Recorder contacted Gardner’s office, asking for the senator’s position on abortion. A voicemail from his office instructed us to request the information by email. We did. There was no reply.
Gardner is afraid to face his constituents on the abortion issue, said Jack Teter, political director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Gardner “has demonstrated nothing but disregard towards the people of Colorado and their ability to access health care, and nothing but cowardice in facing his constituents,” Teter said.
“In spite of his efforts, Colorado remains a safe haven for access to abortion and other reproductive health care,” Teter concluded. “We look forward to his defeat in the 2020 election.”
An Emerson College poll finds that if the general election were held now, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, seeking the Democratic senatorial nomination, would roundly trounce Gardner in the general election by a huge margin of 13 points.
Gardner can see Democrats are doing well in his state: Last year, Colorado elected Democratic governor Jared Polis and wrested control of the state Senate from Republicans, giving them control of both legislative houses.
Tellingly, independent voters have taken a commanding position in Colorado. More independent voters cast ballots in the election last year than Democrats or Republicans, according to coloradopolitics.com, which reported 878,360 independents showed up at the polls, against 849,610 Democrats and 813,644 Republicans. A poll of unaffiliated voters conducted by the site spells trouble for Gardner—51 percent of independents said they typically support Democrats, while less than half that said they usually favor GOP candidates.
As the Centennial State moves steadily toward Democratic Party dominance, Gardner has muffled his anti-abortion views. For example, Gardner previously has favored measures that would legally define fertilized eggs and fetuses as persons—a position that would ban abortion entirely, but backed off this stance ahead of his first Senate election in 2014 after his opponent warned voters of his extreme position on abortion. Last year, he voted for a ban on abortions 20 weeks into pregnancy, but he has yet to take a stance on the proposed initiative for next year’s election ballot that would ban abortions after 22 weeks in the state.
Campaign war chest
Gardner has one huge factor in his favor, though: massive amounts of money.
His reelection campaign war chest is brimming with almost $6.7 million given to him by PACs and individuals, according to opensecrets.org.
He also has received endorsements, which normally would aid his reelection chances, but in Gardner’s situation running in a state trending blue, these might be liabilities.
While the National Right to Life Committee endorsed Gardner in 2014, they haven’t for his 2020 race—at least not yet.
Gardner has, however, been endorsed by President Trump. Gardner has often supported Trump, particularly when it comes to fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to fill Supreme Court vacancies with justices who would likely vote to restrict abortion rights.
For example, Gardner voted to confirm Trump’s nomination of right-wing judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, even as many senators predicted Kavanaugh—if such a case arose—would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh downplayed those concerns during his Senate confirmation hearings and in statements to senators.
Gardner also voted to confirm Trump’s nomination of conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch, who hails from Colorado.
So why has Gardner moved away from his decidedly anti-abortion views?
Gardner Confronts Blue Wave Across Nation
As a Republican, Gardner is facing a surge in Democrats winning offices throughout the country. For example, Democrats flipped the Kentucky governorship and both houses of the Virginia General Assembly from GOP to Democratic control in elections just last month.
Gardner can see that where Republicans do win in Democratic-trending states, they are moderate GOP candidates, not Trump types beholden to far-right groups. For example, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan last year easily won reelection, capturing 55.4 percent of votes cast. Hogan has criticized Trump or ignored the president, and often has worked well with the Maryland General Assembly, where both houses are controlled by Democrats.
Gardner apparently believes he can’t win without Trump, but he can at least try to stay away from issues, like abortion, that could turn away swing voters.
As a result, Centennial State voters heading into the 2020 elections may have a tough time deciphering Gardner’s stance on reproductive rights.