Congressman Cory Gardner has borrowed a page from Sen. Mark Udall by unveiling an ad aimed at women -- in this case, the availability of birth control. "What's the difference between me and Mark Udall on contraception? I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, round the clock, without a prescription -- cheaper and easier, for you," Gardner says in the spot, as various women nod their heads. "Mark Udall's plan is different. He wants to keep government bureaucrats between you and your healthcare plan. That means more politics, and more profits for drug companies. My plan means more rights, more freedom, and more control for you -- and that's a big difference."
More than any other issue, contraception has been a real problem for Rep. Cory Gardner (R). The far-right congressman, running against Sen. Mark Udall (D) in Colorado this year, worked hard to develop a reputation as a culture warrior, including years of championing "personhood" measures that would ban forms of birth control, and he's finding it tough to reinvent himself for his first statewide campaign.
It's left him with a choice: make the campaign about other issues or address his biggest liability. Clearly, Gardner and his team have decided to go with the latter.
In a press statement, the Udall campaign called Gardner's latest ad "jaw-dropping" and the Democratic incumbent has a legitimate complaint. For Gardner to pretend to be a great progressive champion of contraception access is demonstrably ridiculous.
Let's recap the basics. In 2008, Gardner supported a personhood ballot measure, which was easily rejected by Colorado voters. Two years later, conservatives put personhood back on the statewide ballot. Once again, Gardner championed the measure, and once again, the public defeated it.
Gardner, unbowed, then went to Congress where he threw his support to -- you guessed it -- another personhood measure, this time at the federal level.
When the congressman decided to run for the Senate, however, he announced a partial flip-flop: he no longer supports the already defeated ballot measures in Colorado, but Gardner still supports personhood at the federal level (which would, of course, apply to Colorado).
Indeed, literally as of this morning, Gardner is still an official co-sponsor of a federal personhood measure.
So in practical terms, Gardner is running campaign ads championing access to birth control, while on Capitol Hill, Gardner is sponsoring legislation that would ban common forms of birth control.
This is getting a little nutty, even by 2014 standards. We're talking about a far-right congressman who's a co-sponsor of the Life Begins At Conception Act, who tried to redefine "rape" in order to limit federal funds for abortion coverage, and who voted against the Birth Control Protection Act.
And now Gardner wants Colorado voters to believe he's the more liberal candidate when it comes to contraception? Seriously?
To be sure, the fact that far-right politicians are pretending to be progressive in order to win elections continues to be a fascinating development. For all the talk about the United States being a center-right nation, and this being a terrific year for conservative Republicans, the fact remains that quite a few statewide candidates have decided to move sharply to the left in the hopes of avoiding defeat. It says something important about the state of contemporary conservatism.
But while this larger context is important, so too is Gardner's shameless chutzpah.
Here's Gardner's ad: