Is Colorado about to elect a wingnut senator? Cory Gardner's scary agenda

As another poll shows a Tea Party extremist knocking on the Senate door, here's a look at his terrifying positions

Published September 25, 2014 8:46PM (EDT)

Cory Gardner             (AP)
Cory Gardner (AP)

Could a state that has led the way on such progressive policies as gun safety legislation and legalized marijuana for recreational use elect an anti-choice, anti-gay, government shutdown-supporting Tea Party senator who votes with Rep. Steve “Calves the Size of Cantaloupes” King on immigration?

Recent polling in the state makes clear that it’s far from inconceivable. A new survey of likely voters conducted by Public Policy Polling shows Tea Party Republican Cory Gardner edging progressive Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, 47 to 45 percent. While a tiny margin, it marks the third consecutive poll in which Gardner has led the incumbent. His strong showing comes after a concerted campaign by Gardner to shroud his ultra-conservative views in moderate rhetoric.

Gardner, you may remember, is one of the pioneers of the cynical GOP ploy to win over women voters by promising to make oral contraceptives available over the counter. The policy has the virtue of sounding sensible and even like a step forward for the GOP on women’s issues – until you realize that it means women whose contraceptives aren’t covered by insurance will have to pay for them out of pocket. That’s a tall order for low-income women, who’ve also been hurt by the opposition of Gardner and his fellow congressional Republicans to legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

Once he entered the race against Udall, Gardner shamelessly flip-flopped on his support of so-called personhood legislation – which would ban not only abortion but many forms of contraception – but his repugnant record on women’s issues doesn’t end there. Along with the likes of Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, Gardner was a co-sponsor of legislation that would have changed the definition of rape to cover only “forcible” rape.

Women in Colorado appear to see through Gardner’s sham; in the latest PPP poll, Udall leads among women voters by 10 points, while Barack Obama only won women voters in Colorado by 3 points in 2012. But that advantage hasn’t been enough to turn the tide clearly in Udall’s favor – despite the abhorrent views Gardner harbors on so many other issues.

Despite professing this month that he’s “a new kind of Republican,” tailored for a new generation, Gardner is just as boastfully anti-science as the rest of the GOP crew. A self-proclaimed climate denier, he has a 9 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, despite representing a state that prizes its pristine beauty.

Moreover, despite attempts to appeal to Colorado’s growing Latino population with calls for a more “humane” immigration policy, Gardner voted with Steve King to strip funds from the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and supported legislation to remove President Obama’s power to offer deportation reprieves for Dreamers and military families. PPP’s survey finds Udall leading 60 to 17 percent among Latinos although it forecasts that they’ll represent 14 percent of the electorate in November – the same proportion they represented in the last presidential election. Particularly given President Obama’s decision to defer executive action on deportation relief until after the midterms, it’s difficult to see Latinos turning out at the same rate they did two years ago.

Meanwhile, Gardner has compiled a record so thoroughly anti-gay that he’s won the Rick Santorum seal of approval; Gardner opposes marriage equality and has voted against both gay adoption and legislation designed to combat anti-LGBT discrimination. Remember, though: He’s a different kind of Republican. The demographic group that most agrees with Gardner’s views on social issues are white Republicans over the age of 65; he’s a white, right-wing Republican who just turned 40!

If there’s hope for Udall, it’s in the PPP poll’s finding that likely voters actually prefer his positions on the issues above those of Gardner. And he may yet regain control of the race; despite Gardner’s attempt to portray Udall as a lackey of the Obama White House, Udall is the valuable kind of progressive maverick who calls the administration out for its actual shortcomings, particularly on civil liberties. To the extent that Gardner takes on his own party, it’s just to chide them for being too forthright in describing their real agenda.

By Luke Brinker

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