Hill clears way for Gardner in GOP Senate race

Republican state Sen. Owen Hill announced in an email Monday evening that he would drop out of the U.S Senate race, according to conservative-politics blog Colorado Peak Politics.

His exit clears the way for U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who announced in late February that he was entering the — at the time — crowded race to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. Hill’s email noted that Gardner has the best chance to defeat Udall.

Other candidates — Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck and state Rep. Amy Stephens — dropped out of the race when Gardner announced he’d run. But Hill and fellow state Rep. Randy Baumgardner refused ti exit at the time. Baumgardner remains in the race, but has raised little money and doesn’t have the level of support Hill had.

Hill gained the endorsement of the Tea Party Express, which spent more than $200,000 in broadcast advertising on the Colorado Springs’ candidate’s behalf in February. Leadership of the group, as well as many grassroots activists, stood by Hill when Gardner entered the Senate race, championing him as the grassroots alternative to the kind of failing candidates the establishment Republican party has offered voters in the state for years.

On Twitter, Hill accused Gardner and Buck of cutting “back room” deals immediately after Gardner entered the race.

This week, Americans for Prosperity, another national conservative group bankrolled by the oil-billionaire Koch borthers, launched an $850,000 ad campaign in Colorado attacking Udall on Obamacare. Observers see the major ad-buy as a sign that Gardner already has the kind of backing Hill could never attract.

A recent Rasmussen Reports survey indicated Udall and Gardner running almost even, with Udall polling at 42 percent and Gardner at 41 percent, with 13 percent undecided.