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Politics Sen. Cory Gardner, tied to President Trump's 'vindictive' base, faces conundrum in Colorado

20:16  19 october  2020
20:16  19 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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Then there’ s Cory Gardner . The junior senator from Colorado is not one of the loud and persistent GOP critics who have become fixtures on cable news. Gardner said a compromise may be possible – but that it will require the Trump administration to get more heavily involved in the negotiations and

Sen . Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) speaks during a town hall meeting in Greeley, Colo., in 2017. (Joshua Polson/AP). Among the likely targets are retiring Sen . Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, as well as a handful of relative moderates facing reelection in swing states , including North Carolina and Arizona.

FORT COLLINS, Co. — Larimer County has never shown strong voter support for U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.

Not in 2014, when Larimer County, home to Colorado State University, handed the CSU alumnus his Senate seat by a margin of 0.35% — 539 votes. He won that race by about 2.5% statewide, eking out a win over then-incumbent Sen. Mark Udall by promising that “when my party is wrong, I’ll say it.”

And not in 2010, when he ran against a Democratic incumbent to represent Colorado’s 4th Congressional District. This was before redistricting landed Larimer in the 2nd District. That year, he won his race by 8%, but lost in Larimer County by 0.26%, or 311 votes.

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Then there' s Cory Gardner . The junior senator from Colorado is not one of the loud and persistent GOP critics who have become fixtures on cable Gardner said that a compromise may be possible — but that it will require the Trump administration to get more heavily involved in the negotiations and to

Sen . Cory Gardner (R) urged supporters to fight socialism and thanked Pres. Donald Trump for sending the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Colorado

The county has shown more voter support for Senate challenger John Hickenlooper, electing him as governor by a 15-point margin 2010 and 5-point margin in 2014.

Gardner’s tough odds in Larimer County are similar to those he’s reckoning with statewide. Analysts largely expect Gardner to lose statewide come November, pointing to consistent polling that shows him trailing Hickenlooper by between 5 and 10 percentage points. Hickenlooper is ahead of Gardner in all 12 Senate polls posted on FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracker since July, and is ahead by at least 5% in 11.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner participates in the final debate in the 2020 race for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. © Bethany Baker / The Coloradoan Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner participates in the final debate in the 2020 race for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

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Additionally, the Trump administration’ s proposed budget threatens harmful cuts to our nation’ s public lands and environment. In fact, 98 businesses just signed on to a letter with the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance calling for Senator Cory Gardner to defend and protect Colorado ’ s public lands.

The prediction is on par for a state President Donald Trump lost by about 5% in 2016, and a state that hasn’t given its electoral votes to a Republican since 2004.

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Gardner walking a fine line

Trump’s unpopularity in Colorado is the biggest obstacle Gardner faces for reelection, longtime political analyst Floyd Ciruli said. About 57% of Coloradans disapprove of Trump, according to the Colorado Sun’s average of 2020 polling. Recent polls project Trump will lose by upward of 10% here.

“I don’t think (Gardner) will do as poorly as the president, but it is almost inconceivable that he can overcome that deficit,” Ciruli said. “The president of the United States is just incredibly powerful in terms of shaping public opinion and voting in the party.”

Gardner has faced a conundrum throughout the campaign season, Ciruli said: He had to distance himself from Trump to gain votes without inspiring ire from the president or his “vindictive” base. That line has been historically difficult to walk, Ciruli said, recalling former Rep. Mike Coffman, who touted a relatively moderate record and still lost to Democratic Rep. Jason Crow as Denver’s suburban voters trended blue in 2018.

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Republican Sen . Cory Gardner of Colorado , who is up for reelection this year, told a home- state news outlet that he does not want additional witnesses to be included in the Senate impeachment trial. See question key GOP senators asked Trump ' s team.

Senator Cory Gardner speaks to supporters during a private campaign rally for Gardner in The Dome at AMG on August 19, 2019 in Greenwood Village Colorado . The longtime senator faces reelection next year in a state that leans blue. Sara Gideon, the Democratic Maine House speaker and the

Gardner has been “pointing to local achievements to subtly separate himself from Trump, including the Great American Outdoors Act and securing the Bureau of Land Management's headquarters to Colorado,” wrote Cook Political Report Senate analyst Jessica Taylor in her September analysis of the race.

He did the same during the final debate of the campaign season Tuesday, hosted by 9News, Colorado State University, The Coloradoan, Colorado Politics and other media outlets. The Coloradoan asked Gardner about his record of voting to repeal limits on methane emissions on public lands, affirm more lenient pollution standards for power plants and confirm former fossil fuel industry lobbyists as leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior. He responded by touting the Great American Outdoors Act, which will bolster funding for the National Park Service, and securing permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a move long-sought by conservationists.

Cory Gardner wearing a suit and tie: Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, right, participates with Democratic challenger and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in the final debate in the 2020 race for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. © Bethany Baker / The Coloradoan Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, right, participates with Democratic challenger and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in the final debate in the 2020 race for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

He also pledged that “there will be a peaceful transfer of power” if Trump loses his reelection bid, denounced white supremacy and offered a modest qualifier when moderators asked him if he considered the president a moral and ethical man.

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Gazette' s Eric Singer and Chhun Sun talk with protesters and get Senator Gardner ' s take on the push for more face to face town halls.

Sen . Cory Gardner (R- Colorado ), leader of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2018, called on Mr. Trump to "call evil by its name." Given a chance to clarify what Mr. Trump meant by "all sides," a White House official told the press pool the president was "condemning hatred, bigotry and

“Yes,” Gardner said. “I wish he would be more specific in his communications with the American people.”

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Supreme Court confirmation looms large

Gardner frequently took the offensive at Tuesday’s debate, as he has in previous debates and campaign ads. Asked about the Supreme Court, he pivoted to questioning Hickenlooper about court-packing, an issue that has dogged Democrats in recent weeks. The exchange prompted Hickenlooper’s clearest answer yet on court-packing, or whether Democrats would try to add justices to the Supreme Court if they take the White House and Senate: “I don’t like the idea of court-packing,” Hickenlooper said.

But the national spotlight on the Supreme Court has proven detrimental for Gardner, Taylor wrote.

Cook Political Report moved the Colorado Senate race from “toss-up” to “lean Democrat” in late September. Gardner’s support of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll indicated that a slim majority of registered voters (52%) think the confirmation should wait until after the election.

“… his decision to align with Trump and the GOP majority is sure to drown out any choruses of bipartisanship he'll point to, with just over 40 days until Election Day,” Taylor wrote.

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She wrote that the organization had been hesitant to move its prediction for the Colorado race because of “weaknesses (Hickenlooper) has shown as a candidate, including how he handled ethics complaints against him earlier this year.”

Republican groups have spent millions of dollars on campaign ads targeting Hickenlooper, particularly in relation to the ethics complaints. Hickenlooper was held in contempt by the state ethics commission this summer after failing to show up to a hearing on complaints alleging he illegally accepted gifts during his tenure as governor. He said at the 9News debate that the allegations were relatively minor and blamed them on a “dark money Republican organization” whose “sole purpose was to create material for attack ads.”

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“I paid the $2,800 fine, I take responsibility for that, I will make sure it never happens again,” Hickenlooper said.

But neither the ethics fiasco nor Gardner’s debate attacks have managed to put a dent in Hickenlooper’s polling performance. Two polls released Thursday showed him ahead of Gardner by 10 to 11 points.

“There is no reason for either side to put another dime into this state,” Republican pollster David Flaherty told the Denver Post this week. “It’s over.”

a man standing on a stage: Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, right, participates with Democratic challenger and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in the final debate in the 2020 race for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. © Bethany Baker / The Coloradoan Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, right, participates with Democratic challenger and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in the final debate in the 2020 race for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

Larimer County's blue wave

How Gardner and Hickenlooper fare in Larimer County may be telling on an ideological level, offering an indication of where the shifting region lies on the blue-purple spectrum and whether Larimer even counts as a swing county anymore.

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As of Thursday night, about 21,500 people had returned ballots in Larimer County with more than 2 weeks to go before Election Day. That's close to 9% of active registered voters. More than 10,000 of the ballots already returned are from registered Democrats, another 7,600 are from unaffiliated voters — a population that leans left in Colorado — and 3,500 are from registered Republicans.

Larimer County, like many parts of the state and Colorado as a whole, has shifted leftward during the last two decades. Larimer isn't as far left as Boulder County and the rest of Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, but Larimer has consistently been 1-2% bluer than Colorado at large. And Larimer saw a blue wave in 2018 much like the rest of the state, favoring Democrats for every statewide race and most countywide races.

Colorado's 2018 blue wave was strong enough to usher in Democratic candidates for many county positions typically seen as nonpartisan, Ciruli noted. Larimer County saw the same, electing Democrat Bob Overbeck to the Larimer County assessor seat over Republican Alexis Smith, who’d entered the race as the county’s deputy assessor.

“That will dissipate, in my opinion,” as independent voters get older and the presidential terrain changes, he said. “But not today.”

Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one by purchasing a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Sen. Cory Gardner, tied to President Trump's 'vindictive' base, faces conundrum in Colorado

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