Gardner so far mum on historic Cantor defeat

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]O one yet has reported second-term Colorado Congressman Cory Gardner’s reaction to the historic primary-election defeat Tuesday of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

That’s not surprising. He’s running in a tough campaign for U.S. Senate — his first statewide campaign — and has been wary of the press. He’s already been beaten up for flipping on his support for the anti-abortion personhood movement, for bobbing and weaving on immigration reform and for his close ties to the oil and gas industry.

But the electoral earthquake in Virginia surely struck a personal chord with Gardner.

Cantor took a personal interest in Gardner when the then-state lawmaker was making his first run at Congress in Tea Party wave-year 2010. Cantor tapped Gardner for the “Young Guns” program Cantor founded in 2007 to provide financial and consultant services for Republican candidates aiming to unseat Democratic incumbents. Gardner defeated incumbent Betsy Markey that year in a landslide and Cantor and other House leaders quickly drew Gardner under their wings.

In a 2013 post entitled “Ten Republicans Who Could Be Speaker,” Roll Call included Gardner.

[blockquote]Party leaders have been watching this sophomore from the start. Gardner was picked to serve on the transition team tasked with shepherding in the new GOP majority, giving him an “in” with senior members of the House before he was even sworn into office. Gardner cemented those relationships… when he backed mainstream, establishment-endorsed candidates for leadership. Sensing Gardner could be a team player, Republican leaders gave him a plum assignment on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Unlike more rabble-rousing members of the 2010 class, Gardner has opted to brand himself as a staunch conservative who is still able to work well with others.[/blockquote]

But, like Cantor, Gardner will not be serving in the House in the next session of congress. He decided not to run for reelection. He announced in February that he would instead take a run at incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator Mark Udall.

Gardner may be regretting that choice this morning. The House is likely to stay Republican for years to come and Gardner’s conservative rural district would likely have returned him to office for decades.

“Gardner was always seen as a potential leader of the Republican caucus in the House, somewhere down the road,” Colorado State University Professor of political science Kyle Saunders told the Independent this morning. “[But] let’s be honest, when Gardner made the decision a few months ago [to run for Senate], the biggest question about Republican leadership was whether John Boehner was going to survive as Speaker of the House, not whether Cantor was going to get knocked off in a 70,000 vote primary.”

Saunders said the Cantor defeat is a story about the Republican party today. The Gardner story is about “political ambition and timing.”

“I think it’s easy to second guess Gardner’s decision to run for the Senate right now — he hasn’t really gained the traction necessary to unseat Udall yet,” he said. “Udall has a real advantage in name recognition and campaign cash that was going to be difficult to overcome anyway, but especially so with Gardner’s late entry into the race.

“Gardner’s decision [to run against Udall] was a read of the political winds at the time — and Obama’s approval ratings and other political indicators this cycle do look good for Republicans. Gardner may have seen this as his best chance to grab that Senate seat, thinking that if he loses, he can still get name recognition, build out a statewide organization, and run against Bennet next time around.”