The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Michael Scherer put out an in-depth story yesterday that focuses on the changing politics of abortion with the U.S. Supreme Court shifting steadily rightward under President Donald Trump–a shift that could leave Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado dangerously exposed on the issue in 2020 after successfully talking his way out of trouble in 2014:
“We believe that the Kavanaugh vote is not going to be soon forgotten. It wasn’t just a moment in time,” said Brian Fallon, director of Demand Justice, which will launch a small digital ad campaign against Collins this week. The group also plans to hire field organizers in Maine and Colorado, swing states where Collins and Sen. Cory Gardner (R) are set to face voters in 2020…
Democrats plan to use the threat of court action to put Republicans in increasingly blue states on the defensive. Gardner, who voted for Kavanaugh and describes himself as “pro-life,” struggled with questions about abortion during his 2014 race, [Pols emphasis] when Democrats attacked him for having supported efforts to declare the fetus a person entitled to legal rights — a position that could outlaw abortion completely.
Gardner countered that his support amounted to a “statement” signaling his opposition to abortion, and said he wanted to increase access to contraception.
As we wrote last week in the wake of a narrow SCOTUS decision temporarily staving off a crisis over a Louisiana abortion restriction law, reproductive choice is an issue with a long and difficult political history in Colorado. Although our state has a demonstrated pro-choice majority of voters who have rejected abortion ban constitutional amendments repeatedly in recent years, Colorado’s anti-abortion political activists are very powerful within the Republican coalition–placing Republican candidates in the undesirable position of having to satisfy strident litmus tests on abortion in the GOP primary process, then trying to moderate that position enough to win a general election.
Cory Gardner, who had risen in Eastern Plains GOP politics by vocally supporting the “Personhood” abortion ban amendments, found a simple solution to this apparently contradiction: lying. After declaring to an obliging reporter that he no longer supported the local “Personhood” measures he had backed for years, Gardner insisted for the rest of the campaign that his continued support for federal legislation with the same language as “Personhood” was not what it plainly looked like–and managed to convince the press that the real problem was his opponent was overplaying the issue, not Gardner being deceptive at all! The success of this audacious strategy was proven when the Denver Post called Democrats’ attacks on Gardner over abortion a “tired refrain,” and asserted that “Gardner’s election would pose no threat to abortion rights.”
Safe to say, few events in local politics have aged as poorly as that endorsement. For Gardner and Colorado Republicans in general, the success for Republicans nationally that has shifted the Supreme Court toward their desired goal of overturning Roe v. Wade now risks turning abortion from a safe issue with which to mobilize the Republican base into a disastrous liability–one that forces all the consequences of their unpopular position on abortion into the spotlight. The very real threat of a nationwide rollback of abortion rights destroys the reasoning behind the Post’s downplaying of the threat Gardner personally represents, as well as the complacency of local journalists who have long blithely insisted that abortion isn’t an issue worth their time.
After literally defying reality in 2014, a perfect storm is brewing for Gardner just in time to face the voters again.