Lots of people had theories on why U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner decided not to take part in a debate on 9News prior to November’s election, but House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock got the inside scoop from Gardner himself.

“[Gardner] told me…. He was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t talk to those guys [at 9News],'” said Neville on the “Chuck and Julie” podcast last week (at 20 min 30 sec).

Gardner snubbed the 9News debate but accepted invitations for five other debates prior to the November’s election. Gardner spokesman Jerrod Dobkin didn’t say why Gardner made the decision.

It hasn’t always been this way. Gardner eagerly debated Sen. Mark Udall on 9News in 2014 during Gardner’s successful campaign to oust the Democrat.

But sometime between then and now, Gardner got a sour taste in his mouth about 9News, which reaches far more Coloradans than any other news broadcast in the state.

It’s a sourness that TV viewers have seen ooze out from Gardner on a number of occasions, and it has surprised political analysts of all stripes, who admire Gardner’s normally smooth dealings with the press.

After a speech to a business group in October, for example, Gardner snapped at 9News’ Anusha Roy, after she identified herself as being with 9News.

Roy was trying to find out why Gardner was blaming Democrats for Haliburton’s layoffs on the Western Slope, and she caught up with Gardner as he was leaving the venue.

Roy: You tweeted that Colorado Democrats–

Gardner: You didn’t like the tweet? Who are you with?

Roy: I’m with 9News.

Gardner: So you must have your own opinion. What’s your opinion?

Roy : No. I was asking about the tweet you sent about the Haliburton layoffs.

9News anchor Kyle Clark later reported that Gardner had “accused Roy of bias.”

Clark told viewers on air: “We meet [Gardner] at these public events because he ignores our interview requests.”

In fact, Clark had caught up with Gardner just a couple months earlier, after an event with veterans, to ask the Republican about Trump’s tweet telling three Congresswomen of color to “go back where they came from.”

Clark reminded Gardner that he’d refused to answer 9News’ question about whether Trump’s tweets were “racist.”

Then Clark asked, “If one of your kids had told one of their black, brown, or Muslim classmates to go back where they came from, what would you have said to them? This is a family issue. This is a human issue.”

Gardner called the question “weird.”

“Before you start bringing up my kids, which is weird, I would just say this,” Gardner told Clark. “I’m going to do what’s right by the people of Colorado and will continue to make my voice heard. And I’m going to try to do it by not playing politics but by bringing people together.”

As Gardner left for his car, Clark said, “I would encourage you maybe in the future to sit down with us in a more civilized setting.”

But 9News’ on-the-street interviews with Gardner probably don’t explain why the senator isn’t talking to 9News.

Other Denver news outlets have tracked down Gardner in a similar fashion, most memorably asking him repeatedly if he thought it was appropriate for a U.S.president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.

But 9News’ drumbeat of reporting on Gardner has struck a nerve, turning Clark into a pariah (“sport-coat boy”) on some popular right-wing media platforms, where Gardner’s decision to skip the 9News debate was greeted with glee.

Take the Chuck and Julie podcast, hosted by the pair who were fired from KNUS after co-host Chuck Bonniwell joked that he wished for a “nice school shooting” to shed the impeachment boredom that was overwhelming him.

Bonniwell: I think a lot of people got a lot of joy this week when Cory Gardner said he wouldn’t debate on Channel 9. Poor Kyle Clark.

Co-host Julie Hayden: He had a hissy fit….

Bonniwell: It was just wonderful to have him whine that Cory Gardner was going to debate on other stations and not Channel 9.

Guest Patrick Neville: Yeah, he committed to five other debates but not that one. He told me that. He was like, “Yeah, I don’t talk to those guys.’ I guess, he literally doesn’t.

Gardner didn’t return a call from the Colorado Times Recorder seeking to confirm that he’s not talking to 9News at all and to find out why.

You’re tempted to conclude that Gardner’s decision not to talk to 9News is retaliation against the news outlet, and it is, but it also appears to be a retaliatory strike ultimately aimed at the upcoming election.

It would be senseless for Gardner to retaliate against the state’s most powerful TV station if he didn’t have a serious cheering section, in the form of the very same Republican activists who’ve skewered Gardner in recent years for being a “Mitch McConnell stooge” and worse–and whom the incumbent has to inspire in droves if he has a prayer to win in November.