In today’s Washington Post analysis of the U.S. Senate playing field by veteran reporters Seung Min Kim and Mike DeBonis, a newsworthy development for all of us following vulnerable incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado’s race to survive against the odds–the first public discussion we’ve seen or heard of the possibility that Gardner has already been “written off” by national Republican strategists:
Republicans are increasingly nervous they could lose control of the Senate this fall as a potent combination of a cratering economy, President Trump’s handling of the pandemic and rising enthusiasm among Democratic voters dims their electoral prospects…
The emerging consensus of several Republican strategists is that GOP incumbents should be able to hang on in states Trump won in 2016 if the president can hang onto those states himself. That list includes North Carolina, Arizona and Iowa, which Democrats are heavily targeting this cycle.
The flip side for Republicans is that states Trump lost in 2016 — such as Colorado and Maine — could be out of reach. Many GOP strategists have already written off Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), [Pols emphasis] barring a major shift, and some have doubts that Collins will be able to continue her trend of faring far better in elections than Republican presidential candidates she has shared the ballot with.
To be clear, no one outside a relatively compact national GOP decisionmaking loop will know if Gardner has been written off as a certain loss until that becomes evident in visible ways–ad buys that don’t materialize, fundraising drying up, and so forth. But with Gardner’s poll numbers already trending downward from bad into true blowout territory, and a generally bleak outlook for Senate Republicans under the aggregate weight of Trump’s weakness and the pandemic’s devastation, Gardner really does seem to be on the verge of being, as they say when they make the hard calls, “triaged out.”
AP’s weekend look at the Senate race also cites Sen. Gardner of Colorado as singular example of vulnerability among Republican U.S. Senators up in 2020:
The president in office during the onset of Great Depression, Herbert Hoover, was routed in his 1932 reelection bid. Voters also cast out other recent incumbents who presided over sluggish economies, including Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, while Barack Obama was elected in 2008 after Republicans took the brunt of the blame for the collapse of the financial markets that fall.
If that happens again, the GOP isn’t just worried about keeping the White House. Voters who reject Trump may also turn against Republican candidates for Congress. That’s especially concerning for Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, [Pols emphasis] which has been trending Democratic in recent years, and could cause problems for GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tills of North Carolina and Martha McSally in Arizona, where close presidential races are expected.
The circumstances today are exactly not the same as those leading up to the 1932 elections, which took place after several years of economic disaster and ineffective political response by a Republican administration leading to an historic period of Democratic dominance in Congress and the White House. The shock of the massive job losses we’ve seen in the last two months has not been fully absorbed by the public, and the consequences in human terms are not yet apparent. It’s clear from polling that the Republican campaign especially in Colorado to blame Democrats for the economic pain from necessary measures to combat the pandemic has failed, and the story of gross incompetence by Republicans from the White House down in the face of the greatest challenge of our lifetimes so far has solidified as the publicly accepted narrative of events.
In October of 2016, Cory Gardner called for Donald Trump to pull out of the presidential race. Trump didn’t, unexpectedly won, and Gardner transformed himself from “Never Trumper” to Trump’s most loyal defender and ally without ever once explaining his change of heart. Gardner kept his game face through nearly every one of Trump’s innumerable gaffes, scandalously hateful non-gaffes, two damning foreign policy investigations, and finally an impeachment trial. As the COVID-19 pandemic loomed in late February, Gardner and Trump held a joint rally in front of thousands of packed-in supporters in Colorado Springs–right before Trump and Gardner personally worked together to turn the federal government’s response to the pandemic into a spectacle of logistical chaos and political cronyism.
Even at a moment as unprecedented as this, there are fundamentals that apply as long as the American political system as we know it exists. If there is anyone in this country–maybe on this planet–who has earned his fate as a political dead man walking in 2020, it’s Sen. Cory Gardner. This reality, apparent locally for some time, is now evident to everyone.