Gardner is the candidate Udall and liberals least wanted to face
Some things in life are complicated.
Where did I come from? Why am I here? How far do you have to travel to the east before you find yourself in the west?
These are questions that defy any easy answering. But other questions in life aren’t complicated at all.
Why do most people choose not to live in Cleveland? (Answer: Because Cleveland is a miserable place to live, that’s why.)
Yes, some things in this life are as plain as the nose on your mug.
So, too, it goes in elections — some matters are complicated. Others not at all.
A great deal has been written about the lengths to which the Obama campaign went to communicate with discrete classes of voters in discrete geographic communities with discrete focus-grouped messages via new digital portals during the 2012 campaign. Executing such delicacies was cutting edge and, well, complicated.
But the more fundamental building blocks of campaigns are not at all complicated, even in this high-tech age. Take, for example, the first rule of elections, which is this — good candidates win elections. In the realm of electioneering, there is no simpler or plainer truth.
Cory Gardner’s entry into the U.S. Senate race last week — a move that put Colorado’s coveted Senate seat squarely into play and Harry Reid’s grip on control of the U.S. Senate squarely in doubt — got me thinking about all this.
It brought to mind that famous witticism from Dr. Seuss. “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
Complicated question: How can Colorado Republicans — the Bad News Bears of American politics who have lost all of the big statewide races since 2004 — win the highest-stakes election this year?
Easy answer: Nominate a really good candidate.
In Gardner, Republicans have something more than a really good candidate — in Gardner, we have our best.
Until last week, the preferred talking point of Democrats and journalists in defense of Mark Udall’s re-election prospects was “you can’t beat someone with no one.”
In truth, the whole “you can’t beat someone with no one” meme was an overstatement by a Democratic Party that seems to be prone to overconfidence. No, Ken Buck, Amy Stephens and Owen Hill weren’t setting the world on fire. But Colorado has a rich history of electing plodders (see Bill Ritter and Wayne Allard).
And let’s be serious — Udall’s and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s approval ratings will never be confused with that of a juggernaut.
With Udall wrapped around the axle of Obamacare, and the public smitten with a fiery case of anti-incumbency fever, Stephens, Buck or Hill would have very likely given Udall a serious run for his money. But in Gardner, Republicans have an even better shot.
In ephemeral ways, Gardner and Udall are similar. Both are telegenic and well-spoken. Both are approachable and down to earth.
In this People Magazine age, the ephemeral shouldn’t be totally discounted, and that Gardner competes with Udall in style-points is only one of many reasons why Colorado Democrats are so worried about his candidacy.
For Udall, it gets worse, because in the areas that matter more, Gardner and Udall couldn’t be farther apart, and Udall couldn’t be further from the mainstream.
Udall is a political scion, a son of privilege; Gardner is a kid from Yuma who graduated from Colorado State University and then made good.
Udall is a reliable, reflexive, uncritical supporter of the Obama party line in a time when support for the president is at epic lows.
Obamacare. Stimulus. Higher taxes on small businesses. Opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. Did I mention Obamacare? Udall was one of a few who can accurately be said to have cast the deciding vote.
Gardner is a conservative, but he understands the art of the deal. He is a happy warrior who’s well-liked by Democrats and — gasp! — even the cynical beast known as the political reporter.
And Gardner is a legislator — he knows how to make things happen for the people he represents.
Udall, by contrast, has been feckless. He’s sent out a lot of press releases about things like NSA spying and the Colorado National Monument becoming a national park. And what has come of all this posturing? Nada, nada, lemonada.
When you add it up, it’s no wonder so many have called Gardner’s pivot to the Senate race “game changing.” Even in this complicated time, this simple truth remains — good candidates win, especially when they run against incumbents with no credible re-election case to be made.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He graduated from Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.