WASHINGTON DC — Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) is presenting himself to his GOP base as a loyalist serving President Trump, while at the same time loudly trumpeting on his website his bipartisan work with Democrats to obtain benefits for Colorado.
This fence-straddling strategy may not work as Gardner—seeking re-election this year—faces an inconvenient truth: Republicans like him are becoming an endangered species in Colorado, as Democrats control all but two statewide offices.
Further, Gardner took some tough votes yesterday as the Senate tries Republican President Donald Trump, who was impeached by the House on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Gardner’s impeachment-related votes unavoidably will cost him support from Democrats/independents or infuriate his GOP base.
“The vote itself is perilous for Gardner, and he may be hurt no matter what he does,” said Kyle D. Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
A vote in favor of the president will make it easier for Democrats to nationalize the race, which is something Gardner doesn’t want.
“And a vote against the president will weaken Gardner’s standing among Republicans,” Kondik continued, the voters Gardner needs to win another six-year term on Capitol Hill.
Surfing through Gardner’s website is instructive, clearly delineating his strategy of quietly playing to his Republican base while presenting himself as a Republican who can work across the aisle to get things done and bring home benefits for Coloradans.
For example, in Gardner’s summation of his performance in office last year, running 1,800-plus words over eight pages with nearly 50 bullet points, never once does he mention Trump’s name. Where it would seem impossible not to, Gardner cites “the President” or otherwise avoids naming the White House occupant.
But Gardner uses the word “bipartisan” 16 times. And his daily press releases and statements are filled with mentions of his accomplishments with Democratic lawmakers, such as getting the federal government to place Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Space Command offices in Colorado.
“Gardner was ranked the 5th most bipartisan senator in the 115th Congress by the Lugar Center, moving up three spots from number eight in 2017,” reads one claim that’s been blasted by critics as based on a shallow analysis that ignores Gardner’s partisan record.
The embattled senator repeatedly cites his work with congressional Democrats, involving issues as disparate as providing better equipment for firefighters to enabling legal marijuana merchants to obtain banking services.
In September alone, he cited his work with Democrats nine times, involving senators across the nation from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire to Kamala Harris in California.
He also indirectly supports Trump on some issues, such as on U.S. policy toward North Korea. Gardner refers only to “the Administration,” rather than naming Trump specifically.
Gardner does this on his carefully controlled Web site, where he avoids having to answer questions from the public or press. Journalists attempting to get him to discuss issues or to say where he stands on controversies are repeatedly frustrated by his disappearing act or a flat refusal to comment. The senator hasn’t held a town hall meeting in over two years.
Gardner’s office did not respond last week to requests for comment.
But all that may not be enough to sell himself to voters in a state that is becoming ever more Democratic, including the governorship and both houses of the legislature, a state that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump by five percentage points in the 2016 election.
To be sure, playing to both sides, Democratic and Republican, is in one sense understandable for Gardner.
Gardner “is doing what any senator who is on the wrong side of partisan trends in his state would do—attempt to denationalize his [election] race,” Kondik said.
While this two-track strategy “is the only logical path for Gardner,” Kondik explained, “if Trump loses [Colorado] again by more than a couple of [percentage] points, Gardner may be hard-pressed to generate the kind of crossover support he would need to win”
Gardner’s bipartisan work with Democrats in the Colorado delegation to Congress took a hit last week when Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chose U.S. Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) as one of the prosecutors who will try to convict Trump.
Trump “did try to bribe a foreign official,” when Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden, son of potential Trump presidential election opponent Joe Biden, as to why the younger Biden was seated on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, Crow said CNN’s State of the Union Sunday.
Trump’s team asserts that even if allegations in the articles of impeachment are proven, Trump still hasn’t committed any high crimes or misdemeanors, so the president should be found innocent.
If that is true, Crow retorted on CNN, then “no president can be held accountable” for misdeeds.
These new challenges for Gardner come on top of major negatives that he has faced for months:
- An Emerson College poll had Hickenlooper trouncing Gardner 53% to 40% among registered Colorado voters, with 8% undecided.
- Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report each rate Gardner’s chances of winning reelection as 50-50, a toss-up.
- The Denver Post’s withdrawal of its endorsement of Gardner after the senator backed Trump’s emergency declaration allowing the president to use defense dollars to build the wall along the southern U.S. border.
It all adds up to a daunting 2020 for Gardner, a red senator in an increasingly blue state.