Election: Colorado Senate race could decide balance of power
November 4, 2014
GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — Colorado's close Senate race not only could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, but also whether Republicans can say they have a viable future in similar fast-growing swing states with moderate electorates.
Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, facing a tough challenge from Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, is using the same tactics that allowed Democrats to win top-of-the-ticket races in Colorado for a decade: A focus on young voters, women and minorities, coupled with a strong get-out-the-vote operation.
Gardner is trying to show that playbook can be defeated, both by taking head-on Udall's claims that Gardner wants to outlaw some forms of contraception and by beefing up his own voter turnout effort.
"Colorado is either going to be the model of how to defeat the (Democratic) blueprint or the model of why it's so effective," said Kelly Maher, a Denver GOP operative.
Republicans needed six seats to win control of the Senate and were all but assured of winning Democratic-held seats in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota.
Michael Laughlin, 58, of Denver said he voted for Udall in hopes Democrats will keep control.
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"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.
The Colorado campaign has pivoted on women's issues and the question of whether, as in Colorado's last Senate contest, Democrats' advantage on social issues and strong field operation will enable them to survive a difficult midterm environment. In 2010, Sen. Michael Bennet eked out a narrow victory against Republican challenger Ken Buck with that strategy. As head of the Democratic Party group that helps Senate campaigns, Bennet has tried to take the model national.
Udall's re-election campaign is the clearest example of that strategy.
Within weeks of Gardner jumping into the race in late February, Udall began hammering the challenger on his past support of measures to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs, which could ban all abortions and many forms of contraception. But Gardner's campaign felt it was ready for the attacks. Gardner opposes abortion, but he disavowed one so-called personhood measure and proposed making birth control pills available without a prescription.
Republicans took to mocking Udall's focus on women's issues, and even some Democrats are nervous he overplayed his hand by dedicating more than half of his television commercials to the subject.
Gardner, meanwhile, has a conservative voting record but has painted himself as "a different kind of Republican" by appearing in backdrops more associated with Democrats, like wind farms and mountain trails. His campaign played up his youth — he is 40 years old, Udall 64 — and optimistic demeanor.
Neither side has delved much into policy. Gardner touts his support for improving the economy, energy production, the environment and education but rarely goes into detail other than to stress his support for the Keystone XL pipeline, something Udall has voted against. Udall touted his support for increasing the minimum wage, protecting the environment and an immigration overhaul. But each candidate has spent most of his time hewing tightly to his script: Gardner criticizing Udall for supporting President Barack Obama; Udall characterizing Gardner as too conservative to represent such a politically diverse state as Colorado.
Each side tried to energize its base on Monday. Udall made stops across the Front Range, including a rally at Metropolitan State University in Denver with several Hispanic leaders aimed at persuading young and Hispanic voters to cast their ballots.
"We have to win," Udall told Democratic volunteers. "We are on offense. We are campaigning until the polls close. The other team is trying to run out the clock, sit on the ball."
Gardner, who has made relatively few public appearances, stopped at the GOP's campaign office in Greenwood Village to fire up volunteers.
"Every ballot represents a voice, and every voice must be heard," Gardner said. "Make Harry Reid a footnote in history."