Republican prospects for recapturing the Senate got an unexpected boost on Wednesday after news broke that Congressman Cory Gardner, a rising star in Colorado, will reportedly run against Democratic Senator Mark Udall.
Gardner announced a year ago that he would not challenge Udall, opting instead to focus on his job in Congress. But according to the Denver Post, Gardner has reconsidered and will declare his run in the next few days. Republican strategists in the state consider Gardner, who has a sunny style and reliably conservative record, to be their party’s best shot at rebounding from a long string of losses.
Beyond Gardner, the Republican Party’s bench is almost nonexistent in Colorado, where Democrats have routed the GOP over the last decade. Before Gardner’s announcement, the leading candidate for the Senate nomination was tea party favorite Ken Buck, who blew his 2010 Senate race amidst a wave of Republican electoral victories by alienating women and Latino voters.
According to the Greeley Tribune, Buck will abandon his Senate bid to clear the way for Gardner, and will run instead for the House seat opened up by his departure.
One challenge for Gardner is the immigration debate, where the Congressman has struggled to placate both immigration reformers and conservative activists, talking up the need for border security while alluding to a possible solution for existing undocumented immigrants. Latino voters are a critical and growing force in the state, and have sided strongly with Democrats in recent elections as Republicans have rallied behind hardline anti-immigration figures like Buck and Tom Tancredo. Buck, notably, has softened his stance on immigration since his 2010 loss.
Nationally, Gardner’s ascendence is a boon for Republicans hoping to gain a Senate majority in the 2014 midterms. Democrats, who hold a 55-45 majority, are already defending incumbents in tough races in Alaska, North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas. They also are trying to hold onto seats vacated by Democratic retirements in Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and Iowa. With Colorado now in the mix, they’ll have their hands full in trying to stop the GOP from picking up the six seats they need to win control of the Senate. Democrats are hoping they can go on offense in Georgia, where they have a promising recruit of their own in Michelle Nunn, and in Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suffers from low approval ratings, and that Republican primaries will weaken the GOP field.