Colorado Republican Congressman Cory Gardner shakes hands with supporters in Denver on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Chris Schneider/AP Photo

A race to watch in Colorado

A week ago, the U.S. Senate race in Colorado didn’t look especially interesting. Sen. Mark Udall (D) was likely to take on Ken Buck (R); the incumbent senator was likely to win; and the candidate Republicans recruited for the race, Rep. Cory Gardner (R), said he wasn’t interested.
A week later, Gardner has changed his mind; Buck is now running for the House in Gardner’s Republican-friendly district; and Colorado will apparently have a competitive race after all.
In a rousing speech inside a Denver lumber warehouse, Republican Congressman Cory Gardner officially announced his candidacy Saturday for the U.S. Senate, vowing to bring a battle against Democrat Sen. Mark Udall.
“Today, we begin a nine-month fight for the future of our country. And don’t let anyone say otherwise – this fight is about the future, for our families, children and grandchildren,” Gardner said.
At a minimum, Gardner’s entrance changes how people perceive the Senate race in Colorado. Once it became clear the congressman would run after having said he wouldn’t, and Democratic control of the Senate is on the line, Dave Weigel wrote, “Democrats: Panic!”
But in Gardner’s case, it’s hard not to wonder how seriously to take the hype seriously. When I searched Google this morning for “Cory Gardner” and “rising star,” I saw 43,700 results – which suggests the phrasing comes up quite a bit.
The question is why.
To be sure, Gardner would appear to be a stronger candidate than Buck, who already lost a Senate bid in 2010, an otherwise exceptional year for Republicans. But the congressman is nevertheless a conservative Republican from a conservative Republican district in an increasingly blue-ish state.
Given all the excitement surrounding his Senate campaign, it’s tempting to think Gardner must have stood out among House GOP lawmakers for his willingness to reach across the aisle, pass important legislation, and/or demonstrate a unique expertise in key issues.
But none of that appears to be the case.
Gardner voted with his party, for example, on last year’s government shutdown. He doesn’t believe in climate change. He voted with his party on harsh new restrictions on reproductive rights. He voted with his party on Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which among other things, would end Medicare and replace it with a voucher scheme.
Indeed, in Gardner’s kick-off speech over the weekend, he condemned Udall for voting to “cut” Medicare Advantage, apparently forgetting that Gardner himself voted for the exact same so-called “cuts” in 2011. And then again in 2012. And then once more in 2013.
When National Journal ranked House members by ideology, Gardner was the 10th most conservative member, putting him to the right of Steve King, Michele Bachmann, and Louie Gohmert.
Is Gardner a credible “rising star” because he’s earned it or because he’s benefiting from effective p.r.?