Why Would Cory Gardner Flip-Flop on Personhood?

We said it on Friday, and we'll say it again here: Republican Cory Gardner's unfathomable flip-flop over his support of "Personhood" may well prove to be the decisive event in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R).

Dark sunglasses? Check. Flip-flops? Check.

In case you missed the news, Gardner told Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post on Friday that he no longer supports "Personhood," despite a long history of backing the extreme anti-abortion policy that would give full human rights to a fertilized egg. This is a monumental change of position on an issue that has ended the career of more than one Republican politician. As we explained on Friday:

In order to understand what a massive reversal this is for Gardner, you can watch the clip of a 2010 9NEWS CD-4 GOP primary debate (above), in which Gardner explains how he not only supported that year's Amendment 62, but actually circulated petitions to help the measure reach the ballot. As a state legislator in 2007, Gardner co-sponsored Senate Bill 07-143-a near clone of this year's Republican abortion ban bill, which makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Gardner's statement that it's a "lie" to say he opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest is further tripped up by his co-sponsorship of 2011's H.R. 3, the "Redefining Rape" bill also sponsored by Rep. Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin of Missouri, which included the word "forcible" in the definition of rape to further prohibit federal funding of abortions. Colorado Right to Life, a major proponent of the Personhood abortion bans, says that Gardner "hasn't yet responded" to their 2014 survey, but listed him in 2010 as "supports Personhood, responded to our survey, has participated in CRTL events, and is considered 100% Pro-Life."…

…Cory Gardner claims that he started rethinking his support for the Personhood abortion ban "after voters rejected it by 3-to1 margin in 2010." As reported by Lynn Bartels, that appears very hard to believe, in light of the fact that Gardner signed on as a co-sponsor on July 23rd of last year to H.R. 1091: the federal Life at Conception Act. Like Colorado's Personhood abortion bans, this bill would extend "the right to life" to "every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization."

Ever since the surprise late-February announcement that Gardner would be running for Senate, we have consistently wondered aloud how Gardner would be able to convince voters that he is more moderate than his ultra-partisan record would suggest. When we pondered whether Gardner was fundamentally different enough than Ken Buck to defeat Sen. Mark Udall, we weren't joking. It was lost in the media storm surrounding the Gardner/Buck CD-4 switcheroo, but Gardner's record is so partisan that it was always going to be extremely difficult for him to move to the middle.

So what do we make of Friday's announcement from Gardner? Is this part of a broader strategy to publicly pretend to re-invent himself? We asked those questions, and then we answered them. Here's how it went:

Q: What do you make of Cory Gardner's announcement that he no longer supports "Personhood"?

A: Remember this number: 70. Gardner supported "Personhood" ballot measures in Colorado in 2008 and 2010. Both measures were crushed at the polls, with more than 70% of Colorado voters in opposition. Those are huge percentages of the vote, and Republicans know that it is nightmare issue for them. Even "Both Ways Bob" Beauprez recognizes the problem and has tried to reverse himself.

Democrats jumped on Gardner's backing of "Personhood" as soon as he made his Senate intentions known, spreading a 2010 video of Gardner voicing his strong support. It's not unlikely that Gardner's campaign has seen recent polling data indicating just how much this issue damages his candidacy, so they made the decision to try to reverse course early in the campaign.


Q: Did it work? Does this solve his problem with voters over "Personhood"?

A: No, because it's not even close to being genuine. Gardner tried to play the card that it's good for a politician to re-examine issues, but the timing of this announcement betrayed any sincerity. You drop "bad news" on a Friday afternoon because you hope that fewer people will see it or remember past the weekend — hell, everybody knows that. Gardner just wants to be on the record as saying he changed his position so that he can use that defense in a few months when the issue comes back up. Even the least-cynical politico watching this unfold would understand that this was done for purely political reasons. 

Don't forget that Gardner's public support for "Personhood" came in 2010, when Gardner was wooing Republican voters in order to become the GOP nominee in CD-4. Gardner might have had trouble winning that nomination in 2010 had he not been such a firm supporter of "Personhood." If Gardner really doesn't support "Personhood" now, then he was being disingenuous at best by claiming such fervent belief in 2010.


Q: Oh, Well. No harm in trying, right?

A: Put it this way: Gardner's campaign is in a worse position today than it was on Friday morning. Not only did Gardner not solve his "Personhood" problem, but he unnecessarily created new concerns for himself. He has now opened himself up to the always-effective "flip-flopper" attack, which will be particularly devastating for Gardner because there is video of him supporting "Personhood" with his own words. That problem boxes him in on a whole host of other difficult issues where his record won't align with moderate voters. From here on out, Gardner can't try to adjust his position on anything without feeding more fuel into the "flip-flopper" fire; that's very important, because the next stop after "flip-flopper" is "untrustworthy," which is extremely difficult to overcome.

We understand the thinking behind trying to change public perception of where you stand on a critical issue, but "Personhood" isn't one of those squishy issues that people don't have a strong feeling about one way or the other. Gardner didn't just flip-flop on giving subsidies to Ukraine; where you stand on "Personhood" is much more of a core belief that speaks to who you are as a human being.


Q: Is this part of a broader strategy to publicly to re-invent himself (or at least pretend as much)?

A: Perhaps, though it's difficult to see how this would be successful. People dislike a "flip-flopper" about as much as any trait in a candidate. Voters didn't like President Bush when he ran for re-election in 2004, but they didn't believe anything that came out of John Kerry's mouth; you can still win if voters dislike you, but it's much, much harder if they don't trust you.

The fact that Gardner's campaign might even consider a strategy that involves "re-inventing" his position on high-profile issues brings us back to late February and our initial reaction to a Gardner Senate bid. The headline that day read: "How Does Cory Gardner for Senate Make Any Sense At All?" Yes, Republicans needed a better candidate if they hoped to defeat Sen. Udall in November, and Gardner certainly has shown that he can raise money (which none of the other GOP candidates could master). But Gardner is also the 10th most Republican member of Congress — a level of partisanship that is unmatched in Colorado — with a very specific and clear record of support for issues that play well in CD-4 but are completely at-odds with the majority of Colorado voters.

To paraphrase a famous football coach, "He is who we thought he was."


Q: You said that this may end up being the single most decisive event in the 2014 Senate race. Why?

A: Gardner's campaign is extremely worried about how to sell him to statewide voters, and they clearly don't have a good plan for moderating his record. Friday's plan was this: "We'll drop a grenade in the afternoon, duck behind a table, and hope nobody hears it explode."

Gardner's extreme-right-wing, highly-partisan record is a massive problem for someone attempting to woo a moderate electorate…but it might be even worse than anyone thought. Gardner's flip-flop on "Personhood" tells us that his campaign is incredibly worried about how to overcome his background. Intentionally, strategically flip-flopping on a well-known and divisive issue is risky at best, with a very low chance at success. There aren't any scenarios that come to mind where this might have worked out well for Gardner, but he and his advisors obviously felt that doing nothing was the greater risk. Gardner is trying frantically to define himself before it is done for him, but how does he get out of the corner that he painted for himself these last four years in Congress?

This is the Gardner campaign strategy in a nutshell: 1) try to tie Udall to Obamacare, and 2) distract voters from looking at Gardner's record.

That's not a strategy. It's buying a lottery ticket.


45 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Charlie3637 says:

    Gardner is the 10th most conservative member of the House of Representatives.  Check the comment section on the Denver Post bombshell story and you will find 9 pages of comments today.  People are outraged.  The Republicans are a few voices lost in the ground swell of people telling it like it is – a transparent move to separate Gardner from a life long belief that all abortion is wrong and his personhood legislation will rid the world of abortion.  His explanation for his change of heart is weak at best and has no historical context. Evolution on a core personal value does not occur in two months after you declare for a statewide race.  Gardner comes across as a pandering, misinformed and poorly advised candidate for the US Senate.  He is slick in trying to explain away his change of heart as evolution, but his political record shows no sign of evolution.  In June 2013, Gardner co-sponsored legislation on a federal level to support personhood.  His evolution is realizing that he can't win statewide in CO without a large support of female voters, as well as male voters that support the right of women to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives. I agree with the assessment that this is a game changer.  Gardner tries to tie his change of heart to the support Udall expressed for gay marriage in 2010. Society as a whole has "evolved" on the issues of gay marriage over many years.  Udall's positions supporting LGTB are true evolution. Consistent throughout many years in supporting nondiscrimination against people due to sexual orientation. This is a very big political mistake showing poor judgement on Gardner's part and will have continuing ramifications right up to election day.

  2. Progressicat says:

    I wonder how he could not do this. Sure he's now a flip flopper, but that seems better than being the guy who thinks women should be denied contraception and forced to have babies when their fathers rape them. 

    He made sure to clear the field to prevent an attack from the right first , and the religious can rationalize away his change as a lie that he's told to stop the agents of the Deceiver from taking the Senate seat.

    • BlueCat says:

      But has he actually come out and said that he does support exceptions for rape and incest or that he does support the forms of birth control the anti-choicers intend to be threatened by this amendment? 

      Seems to me as if he's doing a really awkward job of trying to get out from under a losing issue for a statewide campaign, personhood , a 3 to 1 loser, without changing anything concrete about his position. Maybe in hopes that the personhood advocates will notice that he still supports their position even if he isn't willing to be explicitly tied to a loser amendment and that the middle will not notice that he hasn't explicitly moderated his position?

      • mamajama55 says:

        I doubt that he'll come out with anything as substantive and specific as "I would support legislation which allows women to get abortion in cases of rape and incest." He'll try to keep smilng and tossing that nice hair of his, hoping that people will be dazzled by bullshit and confused by doubletalk.

        All of these people assume that voters are fricking idiots, like sheep who can be prodded and penned at will. If I were one of his "base", I'd be outraged, and having a hard time justifying continued support. Kind of the way I feel about Hickenlooper now.

        • BlueCat says:

          Yeah but you won't be voting for any of the GOTP clowns who might be running against Hick and hid Gardener's base won't be voting for  Udall. So it doesn't matter so much whether or not he pisses off his base. They'll still be motivated to turn out and  try to get rid of Udall. What matters is if by pissing off his base he expands his appeal. If this is as far as he's willing to go I think the answer is no. Doesn't gain him a single vote he doesn't already have.

  3. Not Dame Edna says:

    I get it, Representative Gardner had an election year change of heart so us silly women will believe that he actually means it. Three stories in as many days makes the point.

    Can we talk about countering the Koch attacks on Udall and mounting a Dem attack on the Koch's and AFP instead?

  4. Ralphie says:

    Because somebody told him to.  C'mon Pols.  This isn't rocket science.

  5. yameniye says:

    There is a huge void of knowledge about what a Cory is outside of his district and within the confines of the state house.  It may be the Koch Bros are counting on dumping millions of television buys, and other media, "teaching" about the "new Cory".  It will be up to the DNC to counteract those ads.  Mark has the lead in all areas of the state for his work and name recognition.  Even Rove and Gingrich should see what a waste of money this will be for the Republicans who have other races that might flip a seat.

    I still cannot help but think that Gardner is a test case for the Koch Bros.  Only a demented candidate and campaign manager would even think Cory had a tiny chance of winning a statewide seat in Colorado.  The Koch Bros probably worked a deal for Gardner ending in their organization the second week in November.

    • Andrew Carnegie says:

      Yam, Gardner is within the margin of error weeks after he announced.

      Any sane observer would conclude he has a reasonable chance of winning the seat.

      Udalll is in trouble.

      If you can't figure that out, you are too.

      • Duke Cox says:

        You just keep throwing that turd against the wall and see if it will stick.

        Everyone who KNOWS Cory, knows what a mendacious, opportunistic, gold digger he really is. The funny part is your reference to yourself as sane…..BWAAHAHAHAHA!!!

      • dustpuppy says:

        I would wait until the next polls come out and see Gardner's support plummet down to next to nothing.



      • Gilpin Guy says:

        And Ken Buck was going to destroy Michael Bennet in the 2010 Tea Party wave year until Democrats started pointing out what a misogynistic asshole Buck was.  Any guesses who won in the real world and who kept control of the Senate?

        Colorado was considered a tossup state in the 2012 presidential election and conservative, extremist ideologues such as yourself were convinved that Romney was going to dominate Obama in the state.  Any guesses who handily won Colorado and who ended up with 47% of the vote?

        The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different outcome.  Con Man Cory is an exact carbon copy of Buck and Romney so don't take it personal if the majority of Colorado voters like having access to affordable health care and reject another attempt by Republicans to elect an unelectable extremist with views outside the mainstream.

      • langelomisterioso says:

        I  believe the most relevant phrase here is "sane observer"which you've proven yourself time and again not to be. You sound like unka Karl on the Fux Noise election night special.But there's no bubble-headed bleach blonde to leg it to a back room to pull real numbers.

  6. Sunmusing says:

    Con Man Cory is a RINO…

  7. ct says:

    Any sane man…


    Dead Heat: John McCain, Barack Obama Even in Post-Convention Poll

    John McCain's taken the better boost from the presidential nominating conventions, eroding Barack Obama's advantage on change, improving on enthusiasm, moving away from George W. Bush — and advancing among white women with help from his surprise vice presidential pick.

    And thus President McCain and VP Crazy Lady became the leaders of the Free World.  

    Now Get Off My Lawn! 

  8. DavidThi808 says:

    What he did here makes complete sense and will be effective. Pretending otherwise only hurts Senator Udall.

    This is one of the major reasons Cory Gardner will be more competitive then Ken Buck. Most here may have disagreed with Ken's philosophy but Ken has always been true to what he believes. Cory will say & do whatever it takes to win.

    As to the "change of heart," the right will assume he's lying now to get elected and will continue to support him. And people in the middle, who won't pay attention till September, will see this change as acient history and therefore it will not be much of an issue to many.

    So to answer your question spoken in mock astonishment "why would he change?" – because it improves his chances of winning. Duh…

    • Davie says:

      because it improves his chances of winning. Duh…

      Correction, David:  Because he thinks it improves his chances of winning.

      In reality, it just gives Democrats another line of attack — Not only does Cory have a proven radical right-wing voting record, what little credibility he had before is completely gone and can't be trusted any farther than you can throw him.

      If all the GOP has is their moronic "Udallcare" attack, then we just need to remind voters how "Udallcare" benefits Colorado families — unleashing our competitiveness (eliminating job-lock), bending the cost curve of medical costs to lower inflation, better preventive care, no denials based on pre-existing conditions.

      The alternative is GardnerCare: Sick?  Die quickly, leech!

    • BoulderDem says:

      Day-um. For a guy who writes a whole lot about politics, you know absolutely nothing about politics.

  9. Duke Cox says:

    What he did here makes complete sense and will be effective.

    and so….you approve, David?

    • Progressicat says:

      I don't know about "approve" but these kinds of moves are exactly what Owen Hill was talking about when he said Gardner "has the ability to leverage a national network."  Much smarter folks than Cory have mapped out his potential path to election (not necessarily the winner, but a possible winner) and it included him putting away his personhood hat.  Will that win it for him, maybe not, but it improves his chances.

      We sit here and say "nobody knows who Gardner is outside his district" and "everyone will see that he only dropped his personhood support to get elected" but we don't make the I(I think corrrect) conclusion that DavidThi808 did:  the fact that Cory is undefined gives him the ability to make and possibly pull off these sorts of changes.  His very insignificance gives those brighter minds around him the chance to redefine him for a whole state.

      We can sit here and say, oh we'll just play the tapes and nobody will believe him, but I'm not so sure.  In any case the move was smart and could be effective.

      • Duke Cox says:

        David said "will", you said "could"…I will wait to see about the effectiveness of this move..I think it will lose the right and Cory will not be able to get enough of the center to beat Senator Udall.

        I will admit that he really had no choice, but there aren't enough ads to win forgiveness for treachery on an issue that engenders such passion in folks we know to be very passionate. I am also quite certain you are right that this wasn't his idea.

    • DavidThi808 says:

      I'd prefer politicians didn't change what they say for political advantage. But they all do it.

      • Duke Cox says:

        I will grant that it is commonplace. But I am still not ready to believe it is that pervasive. There are others, besides Buddy Roemer, who I think can be trusted to stick with the values they hold. I guess I am just not ready to be that cynical. We will see in November.

  10. Andrew Carnegie says:

    Some people see the world the way it is (DavidT,Procat). 

    Others go through life mystified why things happen (DustP, DukeC)

    One minute people are astonished that Udall is ambitious.

    The next minute they are astonished that he leaves an extreme position behind so that he is more likely to get elected.

    Who could have possibly foreseen that?

    • exlurker19 says:

      And the day after Udall is re-elected, your paycheck will be gone and so will you, AC.  We've all seen it before.  Buh-bye.

    • BlueCat says:

      Some people are just shills regurgitating Borg generated talking points ad nauseam.

    • Duke Cox says:

      One minute people are astonished that Udall is ambitious.

      The next minute they are astonished that he leaves an extreme position behind so that he is more likely to get elected                     

      Are you talking about the same person in these two sentences.? It appears so…doesn't it?

      You really shouldn't drink on the job, young man. It makes you even more incoherent than usual.

  11. exlurker19 says:

    Even Nate Silver, who gave Ken Buck a 70% chance of beating Michael Bennett, is giving Udall a 60% chance of re-election.  Guess ol' Nate finally remembered more women than men tend to vote.  And personhood, declaring a zygote more important than the woman who carries it (presumably because there's a 51% chance the zygote is male) is a poisonous position to a lot of women.  Cory saying, "Maybe I've changed my mind," will not play well with women.

    Just saw an ad from the Dems on the teevee taking apart the Koch's ad featuring the earnest little woman lecturing us ignorant Coloradans.  The Dem ad was quite effective.

  12. saofner says:

    Fivethirtyeight puts Udall at 60-40 not a lot different from Pols current estimate.

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