In a night of many Republican victories, none was sweeter for those at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center Tuesday night than the Senate win by Congressman Cory Gardner.
Yuma resident Gardner defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in a race that weekend polls showed was separated only by two points. Gardner’s margin of victory turned out to be about 6 percent as of press time.
During the Republican victory celebration, everyone was a resident of Yuma, Colorado. Or they wanted to be.
“Is anyone here from Yuma?” asked Gardner to the cheers of hundreds packed into the Hyatt on Election Night. While Fox News called the race for Gardner earlier in the evening, it wasn’t until after 10 p.m. that Udall made his concession speech, and Gardner was on the stage at the Hyatt just a few minutes later.
“Tonight, we shook up the Senate…As Republicans in Colorado, we’ve gotten used to the saying, ‘Wait until the next election.’ It finally happened!”
Although the crowd at the victory party had thinned a little by the time Gardner hit the stage, supporters were boisterous and thrilled with what some said was the election’s biggest prize: a Republican senator, the first since Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard ended their Senate tenures in 2005 and 2009, respectively.
Udall, jokingly quoting his late father — longtime Arizona Congressman Morris “Mo” Udall after losing his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976 — said: “The voters have spoken, the blankety-blanks.”
Gardner, who represents the eastern plains 4th Congressional District in the House of Representatives, will return to Washington as part of the U.S. Senate’s new Republican majority, gleaned after Republicans picked up at least seven seats as of press time. (They only needed six.)
Gardner recounted that he began his run for the Senate in Boulder nine months ago, and realized then, the great challenge “we would face to get to this day…We have signed up to be the tip of the spear, the vanguard of the movement that is sweeping our nation, and fundamentally change the dysfunction of Washington, D.C.”
In his speech, Gardner reached out to those who didn’t vote for him, stating that the Coloradans aren’t red nor blue, but that they have a clear message for Washington politicians: “Get your job done and get the heck out of the way.”
The second-term Congressman who worked for three years as an aide to Sen. Allard portrays himself as an outsider in Washington – a place he called “out of step, out of touch and out of time.
“Tonight we commit to building a government we can be proud of,” he said. “It was not a message for Republicans nor against Democrats, but a warning to those who fail to courageously act on our nation’s challenges.”
Udall supporters, meanwhile, felt that their candidate simply was a victim of a nationwide Republican tidal wave fueled by President Obama’s weak approval ratings and the “sinister” influence of dark money pumped into Colorado’s and other races by deep-pocketed conservative groups such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Koch brothers, whose super-PACs don’t disclose their contributors.
“I think what we’re seeing is the voters did not do their due diligence, and they’re going to find out that Cory Gardner is a Tea Party-type candidate,” Monta Lee Dakin, a 63-year-old Udall volunteer from Littleton said of the Senator-elect who has ranked the 10th most conservative House member.
“It was more than Obama. It was dark money, because the economy is pretty good right now and things are moving in the right direction. I think that (money) persuaded people who do not always do their homework.”
Democratic State Sen. Angela Williams of Denver credited Gardner with being a “bright, charismatic man” who ran a strong campaign in a favorable political climate.
“Cory had a message that said it’s time for a change, and it looks like it worked,” she said, acknowledging that she was in “shock” about the election outcome.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, Udall’s colleague from Colorado and the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee responsible for drumming up support for Senate candidates nationwide, said he knew the task would be difficult this year — but didn’t expect the drubbing that his side would take.
“This cycle has been a very, very difficult one for our folks, and we knew it would be from the start because of the geography and how red the terrain is,” Bennet said at a campaign rally hours before the polls closed.
What followed was a red tide that easily gave the GOP control of the Senate and swept candidates like Gardner — once considered an underdog — to a sound victory.
Gardner got into the race relatively late, in February after several other Republicans, including Weld County DA Ken Buck and State Rep. Amy Stephens, had declared their intentions months earlier. Once announced, however, the other Republican challengers dropped out and endorsed his candidacy.
Gardner was attacked early and often on his co-sponsorship of a federal personhood bill, at the same time that a state ballot initiative on issue was also in play for voters in Colorado. He declined to fully explain why he supported personhood legislation in DC but not at home.
The state ballot measure, Amendment 67, was overwhelmingly rejected by voters on Tuesday, 64 percent to 36 percent. The margin of defeat for Amendment 67 indicates that while voters don’t like the personhood movement (and have spurned it in three successive elections), its presence on the ballot did not carry over into enough votes to change the outcome for Udall.
The incumbent had made personhood and his support for reproductive rights such major issues his early campaigning that he derisively earned the nickname “Mark Uterus.”
Udall is highly respected on the Hill and often passionate – and deeply knowledgeable — about pet issues such as national surveillance. But conventional wisdom among Democratic insiders is that he ran a lackluster campaign compared with that of the highly disciplined, close-to-the-vest Gardner, and, although he hadn’t done much divisively wrong in the Senate, he hadn’t done enough right to stave off the Congressman’s challenge.
Up and down the ticket in Colorado, the GOP claimed victory: in the statewide races for Secretary of State, Treasurer and Attorney General, in many legislative seats and even in Congressional races that seemed competitive, including U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s easy victory over Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff, the former speaker of the Colorado House. Even in the governor’s race, populist Democrat John Hickenlooper barely staved off defeat by challenger Bob Beauprez, who lost 2006 previous bid to run the state by 17 points.
The Gardner-Udall race was the most expensive Senate race in Colorado history, with nearly $29 million raised between the two candidates. Udall won the fundraising battle, bringing in more than $18 million, according to the website Open Secrets. Gardner raised $10.6 million as of the end of October. Among the top ten Senate races in 2014, based on fundraising, Udall v. Gardner ranked sixth at $29.8 million (which includes funds raised for minor party or independent candidates).