DENVER — In the week after news broke that Colorado Congressman Cory Gardner would halt his reelection bid and run instead for the chance to replace U.S. Senator Mark Udall, attacks from Udall’s camp have come in a steady stream.
A release from Udall’s campaign Wednesday afternoon barbs Gardner for the role he has played — both under the gold dome in Denver and on Capitol Hill in Washington — as a lead advocate for hardline anti-abortion proposals that some of the top women political figures in the state say would infringe on women’s rights and put their health at risk.
Speaking in support of Udall, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette — the state’s First-District Democrat and co-chair of the congressional Pro-Choice Caucus — puts Gardner among the staunchest anti-abortion members of the House.
“In Congress, [he] voted to allow hospitals to refuse to save a woman’s life if doing so would require her to terminate her pregnancy. He cosponsored a bill to make abortion a felony even in cases of rape and incest, and he supported the radical Personhood Amendment that would ban some common forms of birth control,” she said in her own release.
State Rep. Crisanta Duran, a Democrat from Denver, characterized Gardner’s abortion laws as government overreach.
“Udall understands that women know best when it comes to our health and family,” she said.
State Sen. Irene Aguilar, another Denver Democrat, celebrated Udall’s support for legislation aimed at ending gender-based pay discrimination.
“Mark understands that women getting equal pay for equal work isn’t a women’s issue, it’s an economic and family issue, ” she said. “He cosponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act because he agrees it’s a disgrace that the average woman makes 20 percent less than a man doing the same job.”
Grand Junction community leader Martelle Davis described Udall as the kind of fighter women need in Washington after decades-long tacit agreements and truces over abortion-rights have fallen apart.
“Mark Udall has been an unflinching advocate for Colorado women in the Senate. I know I can count on him to stand up to those like Cory Gardner who seek to criminalize abortion and restrict access to contraception.”
Gardner is an affable figure on the stump and comes across as well on TV as in person. Republicans around the state have been inspired by his surprise candidacy. They hope he can bring momentum to a political landscape in which former GOP officeholders have been retreading old ground and fighting what can seem like ancient battles at a time when the public is moving with lightning speed toward acceptance on issues like gay rights, the morning-after pill and immigration reform.
Udall clearly is set on forcing Gardner to reckon with the fact that the Tea Party policy positions he embraced, that fired up his rural constituencies over the last decade and that fueled his way to Washington are out of step with the views held by the statewide majority electorate today.
As the media has detailed in the last week — and as Udall’s campaign is eager to point out — Gardner as a state legislator in 2007 sponsored a bill to outlaw abortion, including in cases of rape and incest. He also supported a bill in Washington that made headlines across the nation for attempting to redefine rape to include only “forcible” instances of the crime — presumably a way to reduce the number of rape pregnancies in which public money could be used to pay for an abortion.
Gardner has also supported numerous failed attempts to pass a so-called personhood constitutional amendment that would grant fertilized human eggs full legal recognition, outlaw abortion in all cases and threaten fertility research and treatment. YouTube video of Gardner on the stump in 2010 has him saying he not only supported the measure but passed around personhood petitions at his church.
The attack on women’s issues will come as no surprise to Gardner. Hardline anti-abortion positions have become a major election issue over the years here as elsewhere — as personhood groups come back time and again aiming to land state initiatives on Colorado ballots and end up pressuring conservative politicians, who may be pro-life but perhaps don’t believe in outlawing abortion in all cases or rewriting the state constitution in a way that would see thousands of statutes changed to unknown effect.
Colorado is a pro-choice state. Personhood initiatives have been defeated in progressively greater landslide majorities each election year since 2008. Personhood supporters failed even to win enough signatures to make the ballot in 2012.
As the Gardner campaign also well knows, women’s issues sunk the candidacy of the last Colorado Republican to run against a Democrat for the U.S. Senate. Republican Ken Buck lost to Democrat Michael Bennet in the 2010 Republican-wave year — and mostly because women went for Bennet in large majorities.
Exit polls conducted for news stations and for the Associated Press that year found Bennet led Buck by 16 points with women voters — a crucial voter block in any statewide election in Colorado.
Registered women voters this year, in keeping with a steady trend in the state, outnumber registered men by significant margins — and especially in the dozen battleground high-population Front Range counties where elections are decided. In those counties alone — stretching from Pueblo in the south to Weld in the north — female registered voters outnumber male registered voters by 106,000. Bennet defeated Buck by 30,000 votes.
Udall is clearly banking on the fact that women will vote this mid-term election year, as they did in 2010, if they feel strongly that there’s something at stake. Equal pay and reproductive rights are the kind of attention-getting issues that stir voters to cast their ballots and to cross party lines.