[dropcap]R[/dropcap]epublican U.S. Senate candidate Congressman Cory Gardner drew attacks on the left and on the right when he announced last week that he had re-considered his long-held position on personhood, the proposal that defines legal human life as beginning the moment of conception and so would outlaw abortion in all cases, some forms of contraception and fertility research and treatment. Colorado residents have voted in repeat landslides against the proposal since 2008. Gardner says he is demonstrating his ability to listen to the people, that he remains pro-life but opposes the proposals restrictions on contraception.
Democratic Senate incumbent Mark Udall mocked Gardner’s policy flop as a transparent political move.
“[Gardner’s] beliefs haven’t changed, but his ambitions have,” he said, referring to the demographic differences separating Gardner’s current rural and conservative constituency and more moderate statewide voters.
Gardner, however, has a long record of supporting radical anti-abortion positions that extends to the current congressional session. He co-sponsored the “Life Begins at Conception Act” last year — a bill that introduced the alarming and toxic term “forcible rape” into the lexicon, begging the question of whether there was any other kind.
Ever since the announcement, pundits have mostly eschewed weighing the sincerity of the flop and have been attempting instead to divine whether it was a good or bad political move.
Denver-based independent analyst Eric Sondermann thinks that overall it was a good move because it was a necessary move.
“Once he was running for state-wide office, he had to get right on this issue,” said Sondermann. “Yes, it’s created a significant dustup, but the question is Will it be a seven-month dustup or just a March stir?” He added that when it comes to voters who won’t forget, specifically those on the left, Gardner was probably never going to get their vote anyway.
“I think it will come across as a refinement of his position, it’s not like he’s switching from pro-life to pro-choice,” added Sondermann. He said most conservative voters are likely to “come back home” to Gardner after a brief stage of reeling or second-guessing and that the flop may save him from scaring off suburban female voters — that crucial block which has been toppling Republican efforts to win statewide races for nearly a decade.
In Weld Country, the conservative heart of Gardner’s congressional district, Doug Aden is less sure that Gardner’s flip will win him the votes he needs to defeat Udall. Aden ran against Gardner in the Tea Party wave-year 2010 as the libertarian American Constitution Party candidate. He said he first heard of the flop when Weld County voters started badgering him to hop into the Senate race.
“It’s not whether this is a smart move to appear more moderate in his position; obviously that’s what Gardner is counting on. Unfortunately, you really want to count on your base,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know many strong pro-life folks would feel comfortable voting for a candidate they see as soft on personhood.
“A lot of these people will still say in the polls that he’s their choice or whatever, but when it comes down to actually voting, a lot will under-vote or else not go to the polls at all,” he predicted.
Even so, Aden said he has no plans to jump into the race to capture the pro-personhood voting bloc.
“I wouldn’t try to run a statewide race, because I don’t think I reflect the views of the whole state of Colorado,” Aden said. His answer raises the question at the heart of the flop: Will enough people across the state look past Gardner’s voting record to feel his views reflect their own?
“I think Republicans see this as their best chance [to win a statewide race],” said Sondermann. “They don’t have a better candidate on their bench than Cory Gardner and they won’t find a more hospitable year than 2014.”
[ Photo by William Murphy ]