As the Denver Post’s Justin Wingerter reports:
Facing online and on-air criticisms this week from environmental groups, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is portraying himself as a steadfast defender of Colorado’s oil and gas industry in an era of unprecedented progressive attacks…
Gardner, a Yuma Republican, faces a tough re-election fight next year in an increasingly liberal Colorado. He has hinted in these early months of his re-election campaign that he will focus heavily on the threat of socialism and the Democratic Party’s leftward swing as he rallies his Republican base and makes his case to undecided voters.
“Renewable energy sources like wind and solar must be a part of our long-term energy outlook, but we shouldn’t be sacrificing traditional energy sources to fulfill the pipe dream that is the Green New Deal,” Gardner said in a statement. “The far left’s radical agenda to ban oil and gas would be a disaster for Colorado and eliminate over 80,000 jobs in our state alone.”
On the campaign trail for the U.S. Senate in 2014, one of now-Sen. Cory Gardner’s major objectives was to reduce his Democratic incumbent opponent Sen. Mark Udall’s overwhelming advantage with swingable voters who value environmental protection and the state’s longstanding policy emphasis on clean energy development. Gardner used words like “all of the above” to describe his energy agenda, but it was much more important for Gardner to prove he wasn’t a fossil-fuel throwback with swing voters crucial to what turned out to be a very narrow margin of victory for Gardner over Sen. Udall.
Thus “Windmill Cory,” another of so many of Gardner’s personas of convenience in his political career–which included as our readers know registering as a Democrat–was born.
In 2020, however, Gardner confronts a very different electoral dynamic. What Gardner is up to today with these rote attacks on “socialism” and stalwart defense of the oil and gas industry is much less optional than it might first appear, and that’s important to understanding why Gardner is counterintuitively running right in a state whose overall political trajectory since Gardner’s election to the Senate has been consistently left. Gardner is extraordinarily weak among base Republicans, as evidenced by hard poll numbers and a wealth of often-colorful talk radio anecdotes. Before Gardner can make any kind of play for the electorate that put Democrats overwhelmingly in charge of Colorado in the 2018 elections, Gardner is obliged to convince Republicans who are tepid at best in their support that he is worth fighting for.
The fact that Gardner is having to shore up his base on the right with red-meat ads like this one, instead of laying claim to the “post partisan” credentials that we believe increasingly will be the only way for Republicans to win statewide in Colorado as the state continues to demographically blue, is another sign of how fundamentally vulnerable Gardner is going into next year’s elections. Today’s radicalized, fact-averse, Trump-devoted Republican base in Colorado effectively prevents Gardner from attempting the political metamorphosis he barely pulled off in 2014. And without a reinvention on that magnitude or greater, Cory Gardner can’t win.