In Tight Midterms Facing Low Turnout, Colorado's Senate Race Could Decide Who Controls Congress

October 17, 2014


Mike Littwin

longtime Denver Post political columnist who now writes for The Colorado Independent and other publications.

As we broadcast from Denver, Colorado, we examine how the state’s U.S. Senate race in the upcoming midterm election could shape who controls Congress. Republican candidate Cory Gardner and Democratic incumbent Mark Udall are neck and neck in the polls. Gardner is a two-term congressman and son of a tractor salesman who has attacked Udall’s support of the Affordable Care Act and close family political ties. Meanwhile, Udall has accused Gardner of being too far to the right, especially in his previous support for Colorado’s "personhood" ballot measures, which declared that rights begin at conception. Outside groups have poured millions of dollars into the campaigns. We look at the Gardner-Udall contest — and other key issues in the midterm election — with Mike Littwin, a longtime Denver Post political columnist who now writes for The Colorado Independent.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting once again from the studios of Open Media Foundation/Denver Open Media, here in Denver, Colorado, where a key Senate race has become one of the nation’s most closely watched contests. Republican candidate Cory Gardner and Democratic incumbent Mark Udall are neck and neck in the polls. The political battle has the potential to tip control of the Senate to the Republicans.

Gardner is a two-term congressman, son of a tractor salesman, who has attacked Udall’s support of Affordable Care Act and close family political ties. Meanwhile, Senator Udall has accused Gardner of being too far to the right, especially in his previous support for Colorado’s so-called "personhood" ballot measures, which declared that rights begin at conception.

UDALL FOR COLORADO AD: It comes down to respect for women and our lives. So Congressman Cory Gardner’s history promoting harsh anti-abortion laws is disturbing. Gardner sponsored a bill to make abortion a felony, including cases of rape and incest. Gardner even championed an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control here in Colorado. But Mark Udall protects our right to choose, our access to birth control.

AMY GOODMAN: That ad, endorsed by Senator Udall, but may have backfired. Last week, to the surprise of many, Cory Gardner won the endorsement of the state’s biggest newspaper, The Denver Post. The paper had previously endorsed Udall in his 2008 run for Senate, but shifted allegiances, saying he’s now running a, quote, "obnoxious one-issue campaign" on abortion issues. Senator Udall, the incumbent, responded by telling Reuters, quote, "If Congressman Gardner hadn’t built his entire political career on limiting women’s reproductive choices, we wouldn’t be having this discussion today."

The closely contested Senate race is widely viewed as a litmus test for whether Colorado has shifted into the Democrat column or remains a swing state. President Obama carried Colorado in his two runs for the White House, and Republicans have not won a top-of-the-ticket race here in a decade. However, Democrats are now so concerned about Senator Udall’s chances that President Obama has urged Colorado voters to consider the race as important as the 2008 presidential ballot. And on Monday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headlined a fundraiser for Udall in Denver and posed with him afterwards for a photo shoot. Meanwhile, Colorado voters have been bombarded by political ads from both sides as outside groups have poured millions of dollars into the campaigns. According to The New York Times, Cory Gardner raised $4.5 million and reported $1.4 million more in cash on
hand than Udall.

The governor’s race between the incumbent, Democrat John Hickenlooper, and former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez is also far tighter than many had anticipated.

Well, for more, we’re joined now by Mike Littwin, veteran Denver Post political columnist who now writes for The Colorado Independent and elsewhere.

Mike Littwin, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

MIKE LITTWIN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about the significance—


AMY GOODMAN: —of the Gardner-Udall contest, the race for the Senate that could determine who controls the Senate starting next year.

MIKE LITTWIN: Well, Colorado, sadly for us who live here, has become one of the key bellwether states—and not sadly to live here, it’s a great place to live, but it’s not a great place if you watch TV, because every single minute of advertising time in Denver, Colorado, is sold out. We have this sad onus of being the most thoroughly advertised—political advertised city in America. So, all you suffering out there, it’s worse here.

And the reason for this is that Colorado is a state that doesn’t easily fit into any one category. It has become sort of a purple state, because our state is divided almost equally among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliateds. So, every race seems to be a toss-up. Every race seems to be two- or three-point difference. And the Democrats have had that two- or three-point advantage for 10 years now, but it’s still usually a two- or three-point advantage.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the Gardner-Udall contest.

MIKE LITTWIN: The Gardner-Udall race, to me, it’s been kind of a depressing race, because they have avoided so many of what I think are the important issues. You don’t hear very much about immigration. You don’t hear very much about minimum wage. You don’t hear very much about paycheck equity. You don’t hear a lot about what’s going on in Syria. Most of the race, as you were saying, is about Cory Gardner’s previous support of personhood, which he used to brag about supporting and passed out petitions in church. And he is now supporting what is a, yes, national personhood bill.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about this personhood initiative—

MIKE LITTWIN: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —on the November ballot, which would amend the state constitution to define every stage of pregnancy as a legal human being.


AMY GOODMAN: Critics argue it would ban not only abortion, but also common forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization. The Republican Senate candidate, Cory Gardner, has come out against the measure, as you said, after supporting two previous attempts to pass a personhood initiative in 2008 and 2010 here in Colorado. Last month, a reporter asked him why he still supports a personhood bill at the federal level.

ELI STOKOLS: If you don’t support the personhood initiative at the state level anymore, why keep your name on that Life Begins at Conception Act at the federal level?

CORY GARDNER: There is no such thing as a federal personhood bill.

ELI STOKOLS: OK, but Cory, I mean, the people who wrote that bill—Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, Paul Broun of Georgia—they say, Personhood USA says, that that is what the Life Begins at Conception Act is.

CORY GARDNER: When I announced for the Senate, that’s when this outcry started from the Senate campaign of Senator Udall’s. That’s what they’re trying to do. This is all politics. It’s unfortunate that they can’t focus on—

ELI STOKOLS: But the facts are, I mean, just as people—

CORY GARDNER: No, the facts are, Eli, that there is no federal personhood bill. There is no federal personhood bill.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Republican senatorial candidate, Cory Gardner, being questioned. Mike Littwin?

MIKE LITTWIN: This is the—this is the "What you see before your eyes is not what happened. Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?" defense. Cory Gardner says, "There is no federal personhood bill, there is no federal personhood bill, there is no federal personhood bill," when of course there is a federal personhood bill. He’s the co-sponsor. As you heard Duncan Hunter say, this is a way to get around Roe v. Wade. They think this would overturn Roe v. Wade, according to the supporters. Personhood USA says it’s a personhood bill. And Cory Gardner says—he says two things: One, it’s not a personhood bill; two, this is just a statement of my belief—that the bill is just a statement of his belief that he’s pro-life.

And so, this has allowed—this has allowed Mark Udall to continue on this path, because not only have we got—yes, we understand that Cory Gardner once supported personhood and now he doesn’t on the state amendment, but why in the world is he still supporting it in Congress? And that’s the question. Why in the world is he still supporting it in Congress?

AMY GOODMAN: What about the money that’s pouring into these campaigns, the outside money? Can you talk about Karl Rove? Can you talk about the Koch brothers?

MIKE LITTWIN: Right, yeah, you mentioned $4.5 million that Cory Gardner had raised. That’s nothing. That’s bupkis. All the money is outside money, and it is pouring in from left and right, and that’s why you see every available second of TV ad time is sold out.

The campaigns, the campaigns themselves, the Udall and Gardner campaign, they can’t spend all of their money. They don’t know how to spend it. They don’t have enough—there is not enough room to spend it. So they’re taking their money—and this will be fascinating—they’re taking their money and spending it on the ground game. They’re spending three or four times as much on ground game as anyone ever spent—ground game meaning get out the vote. And, you know, for the Democrats, this is what the Democrat hope is. Cory Gardner is running about three points ahead of Michael Bennet—I mean, of Mark Udall. The Democrats believe that their get-out-the-vote thing is about a three-point difference. So, if Gardner is three points ahead in the polls, and Democrats think they’re three points ahead, that’s a tie.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Udall is a big oil-and-gas guy, but he’s also, along with Senator Wyden of Oregon, a major figure speaking out around the issue of surveillance in this country.

MIKE LITTWIN: Yes. Udall is old-time Colorado environmentalist, has climbed all of the 14ers in the state of—he’s gone—

AMY GOODMAN: The tallest 14 mountains?

MIKE LITTWIN: The 14,000-feet mountains. He’s gone to—I think there’s 50-something of them. He’s gone around the world and climbed. It’s what—he’s the rugged, outdoor guy. He got his years in—he got his start in Outward Bound. He looks like Colorado. Cory Gardner, who’s also—he’s from the Eastern Plains farming area, but he looks like he’s, I don’t know, a dentist from Connecticut. So, you know, he doesn’t have that same sort of rugged Colorado look that Udall has. And a lot of—so, Gardner just did a commercial about showing himself in the mountains, and The Denver Post made fun of him as, you know, he’s no Mark Udall.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the climate change issue.


AMY GOODMAN: During a debate earlier this month, the moderator asked Cory Gardner to answer a question on climate change with a simple yes-or-no response. Let’s go to that exchange.

MODERATOR: Do you believe humans are contributing significantly to climate change?

CORY GARDNER: Well, I’ve said all along climate change—it’s an important issue, but I don’t think you can say yes or no.

MODERATOR: But you have 60 seconds after—

CORY GARDNER: I believe the climate is changing. I disagree to the extent that it’s been in the news that man is causing—

AMY GOODMAN: OK, there you have it, Cory Gardner not wanting to answer yes or no to this question on climate change.

MIKE LITTWIN: That’s their whole strategy is to vote right, appear moderate. And Cory Gardner is a very moderate-looking person, and that’s—their real hope is to capture the center in Colorado by appearing to be more moderate than the vote indicates.

AMY GOODMAN: The governor’s race, John Hickenlooper versus Bob Beauprez?

MIKE LITTWIN: This is a more of an old-fashioned race about the issues, about Colorado. And John Hickenlooper is touting the economy, which is finally pretty good in Colorado and has grown in Hickenlooper’s career. And on the other side, the two big issues for Beauprez have been that after Sandy Hook and Aurora, that the Democrats—Democratic Legislature passed some very modest gun laws, which led, as you may have heard, to the recall of two state senators, and it’s been a huge issue in Colorado ever since; and then, in the death penalty, where Hickenlooper ran as a pro-death penalty governor in 2010, but when it came to time to execute the first person in Colorado in 20 years, he couldn’t do it. He backed off and said this wasn’t what government should do, and had a real—had a real epiphanous moment. But for—Republicans have said it was a flip-flop, and Beauprez has said that if he is elected governor, that the first thing or one of the first things he’ll do is to execute Nathan Dunlap.

AMY GOODMAN: The congressional race that is getting a lot of attention?

MIKE LITTWIN: Yeah, the race, the Sixth District race between Andrew Romanoff and the incumbent, Mike Coffman, started out being a huge race, and—because it’s a very close district, one of the few ungerrymandered districts in America. It really is one of those third-third-third districts. But since the House became less important—nobody thinks the House is going to swing one way or the other, it’s stuck as a Republican House—that people became less interested, and it’s having a lot of trouble—

AMY GOODMAN: What Coffman’s known for, what Romanoff is known for?

MIKE LITTWIN: Yeah, Romanoff is—

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

MIKE LITTWIN: —used to be speaker of the House in Colorado, and he’s sort of a mainstream liberal, and Coffman is a former marine who is a conservative Republican, who is very big on cutting money—on the Defense Department, though.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.


AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Mike Littwin, with The Colorado Independent, former veteran reporter with The Denver Post.

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