Littwin: Straight face? You try it.

Mike Littwin
Fair and Unbalanced

If every picture of U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner shows him flashing a big smile, there’s a reason. And it’s not just because he’s a friendly, likable guy (although he is).

The reason for the big smile, I’d guess, is that he’s having trouble keeping a straight face.

Give Gardner credit. The one thing he knew when he started his Senate campaign was that he couldn’t win by being, well, Cory Gardner — not when the National Journal had ranked him in 2012 as the 10th-most conservative member of the House of Representatives. To give you an idea, Rep. Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, didn’t make the top 25.

So, he had to change. But there’s change and then there’s this.

One day he’s the regular, smiling, 10th-most conservative Cory, and then the next he’s pro-pill, anti-personhood, pro-windmill, pro-DREAMer (still smiling) Cory, the “new kind of Republican,” as it says in the TV ad. And, gosh, you’d hope so, given that the old kind of Republican has lost every top-of-the-ballot race in Colorado since 2004.

But to say that the sudden makeover is a little cynical would be to miss the point, not to mention all the backstage costume changes. This isn’t politics as usual. It’s more like magic. What we’re seeing is Gardner reconfiguring himself as the perfect kind of Republican to win in a bluish state.

You can say that the old Gardner repeatedly voted for personhood, for big oil, against the DREAMers and cite each vote. But that risks sounding like whining. Gardner is attempting something on a grander scale. He’s not trying to convince everyone that he’s changed but rather that, despite all the evidence, this is basically who he has always been.

It started with Gardner’s renunciation of Colorado personhood, of course. Yes, it was a rough patch. He had to have a reason why he was once (actually three or four times) a strong supporter of personhood and now, suddenly, he wasn’t. He decided on going for ignorance. He said he hadn’t understood that the concept of life beginning at conception might preclude certain kinds of birth control, even though everyone said so at the time. But now that he understands it, he said, he’s naturally changed his position.

OK, the idea that the summa cum laude college student hadn’t bothered to study up on the issue is preposterous. Still, he made a little mistake. He neglected to undo his co-sponsorship of the federal personhood bill. So he’s officially against personhood and he’s officially for personhood, which he explains by saying that his co-sponsorship is just a way to send a message.

Straight face? You try it.

But we’ve moved on. OK, the Democrats haven’t moved on. They’re running scary, apocalyptic ads every day on Gardner and abortion and personhood, saying that Gardner led a “crusade” against birth control, which might be a slight exaggeration.

But the new Cory has moved on, to the pill. And this is where it gets really good. I hope you’ve seen the ad because the ad tells the entire story. Yes, there’s the windmill ad in which Gardner basically claims he invented the Internet or whatever the equivalent would be of wind energy.

The pill ad is different. It gets to something essential. You may remember that Gardner wrote an op-ed in the Denver Post calling for the pill to be sold over the counter where everyone could buy it and where market forces would make the pill cheap and affordable for all.

This, he hoped, would get him past — or at least sideways with — personhood and Hobby Lobby and the whole birth-control problem that Republicans have brought upon themselves. I thought it was great strategy. The shock effect alone might make you forget, if just momentarily, the Rush/slut fiasco.

But Gardner kept getting slammed. And now, he is slamming back. You can’t believe this — Sen. Mark Udall certainly can’t — but Gardner has gone to Udall’s left on women. It’s a move you’ll have to replay a few times to believe. He could go all the way.

Here’s the script, which doesn’t mention that under Obamacare most contraceptives are free:

“What’s the difference between me and Mark Udall on contraception? I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, round the clock without a prescription — cheaper and easier, for you,” Gardner says in a town-hall type setting, as if he’s answering a question from the crowd. As he speaks, women are seen nodding their heads.

“Mark Udall’s plan is different. He wants to keep government bureaucrats between you and your health care plan. That means more politics and more profits for drug companies. My plan means more rights, more freedom and more control for you — and that’s a big difference.”

So Gardner, who is strongly anti-abortion, is using the language of, say, Planned Parenthood — rights, freedom, control. Definitely a new kind of Republican. A desperate kind or a really shrewd one?

Gardner released the ad just days before the first Senate debate Saturday night in Grand Junction. The debate might offer a clue. Meanwhile, Udall’s campaign called the ad “jaw-dropping.” One Democrat called it “chutzpah.” And Gardner? We’ll know things have really changed if his campaign starts to call it Cory’s Plan B.

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, he currently writes for


WineInk: The 2023 vintage

“2023 predicted to be the Vintage of a Lifetime in Napa Valley,” proclaimed the headline this week in a press release sent out by the Napa Valley Vintners, the trade organization that represents the growers and producers in America’s most famed wine region. If there is anyone more optimistic than winemakers, it is the group that represents them.

See more