Cory Gardner’s Senate Victory Proves Colorado Is Not a Blue State

A gaffe-free GOP campaign triumphs over a vaunted Democratic machine.

Senator-elect Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).David Zalubowski/AP


It was the difference between this year’s US Senate race and the 2010 election that kept Colorado Democrats up at night: the caliber of the opposition. Democrat Michael Bennet’s challenger four years ago, tea partier Ken Buck, had a knack for the ill-timed gaffe. (Recall how, two weeks before the ’10 election, Buck went on Meet the Press and compared being gay to alcoholism.) This year, by contrast, incumbent Sen. Mark Udall’s rival, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, ran a disciplined and mistake-free—if disingenuous—operation.

That, in the end, helps explain why the 40-year-old Gardner will be Colorado’s next US senator. The Associated Press called the race for Gardner at 10:18 p.m. ET. Gardner’s victory gives the Republican Party five of the six seats it needs to take control of the Senate.

Udall took plenty of cues from Bennet’s 2010 playbook. Reproductive rights figured prominently in Team Udall’s messaging. Udall put together an extensive grassroots machine aimed at mobilizing single women, Hispanics, and unaffiliated voters. And he sought to portray his opponent as too extreme for Colorado voters. (As did outside groups spending heavily on Udall’s behalf.)

Udall also had the backing of Colorado’s vaunted progressive machine, the gold standard of state-level political infrastructure in the nation. That machine helped Democrats cling to power during the GOP’s 2010 landslide, with Bennet and gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper winning their elections.

But Udall’s defeat also points to Colorado Republicans’ progress, however halting, in replicating the left’s success. After years of infighting and backsliding, Gardner’s party vowed this year to make up ground on their Democratic counterparts and they seem to have succeeded.

Earlier this year, ex-Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams gave a memorable quote to a reporter from the New York Times: “This election, in many ways, is going to determine whether Colorado has really shifted blue.” If there’s a major takeaway from Udall’s loss, it is this: Despite the recent run of Democratic successes in Colorado, the Centennial State is firmly purple, a swing state, and anyone who says otherwise is (legally) smoking something.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.