Colorado’s Senate Race Just Got a Lot More Interesting

Also in today’s Jolt:

Colorado’s Senate Race Just Got a Lot More Interesting

This is not a guarantee that Senator Mark Udall (D., Colo.) will be defeated in November. But it is good news.

Weld District Attorney Ken Buck and Rep. Cory Gardner are swapping races.

Buck said Wednesday he will drop his bid for U.S. Senate and instead pursue the 4th Congressional District seat, which represents Weld County.

Gardner, a Republican who currently represents the 4th, will run for U.S. Senate, Buck said.

“I have talked with Cory Gardner and feel that he would be a strong candidate for the United States Senate to beat Mark Udall,” Buck said. “I made the decision to step down and endorse Cory for that job. I was running against Mark Udall because I think this country needed to change directions, and I still think the country needs to change directions, and I think Cory gives us the best chance to get that done.”

The field is cleared:

State Rep. and United States Senate candidate Amy Stephens confirmed with The Gazette on Wednesday evening what had been rumored throughout the day. She will remove herself from the U.S. Senate race and throw her support behind U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner in a campaign that will pit a Republican nominee against Sen. Mark Udall, a Boulder Democrat born to a powerful political dynasty.

“Cory is Colorado’s great unifier,” said Stephens, of Monument. “He is liked in so many circles — right, left, moderate, you name it. He is Colorado’s beloved son and at the end of the day he is the candidate who can take on Mark Udall and make this happen. If we want to avoid a single-payer health system, we need Cory to win.”

As the Colorado Springs Gazette notes:

Colorado Republicans must never forget this selfless decision by Stephens, who could have posed a formidable threat to the incumbent Democrat. We seldom see politicians place the interests of a party or a political philosophy ahead of the self interest of winning a higher political office.

Buck’s not a bad candidate, but he had a golden opportunity against appointed Senator Michael Bennet back in 2010 and fell just short, 46.4 percent to 48.1 percent in what was a near-ideal issue environment for the GOP. His mouth got him in trouble with an ill-regarded off-the-cuff comment that voters should support him over his female primary opponent, Jane Norton, “because I do not wear high heels” — the kind of statement easily exploited in attack ads. By shifting to the House race in Gardner’s R+11 district, he becomes, barring some massive implosion, Congressman-elect Ken Buck.

Cory Gardner is a top-tier candidate. You may recall him grilling witnesses about some of the more inane “got coverage?” ads running in his state. Back in 2010, Gardner was one of the “young guns” and considered one of the GOP’s best shots to pick up a seat, running against Betsy Markey. Markey outspent Gardner by $1.2 million . . . and lost, 41 percent to 52 percent. He’s young and polished and has solid conservative credentials but is also capable of articulating that message in a way that doesn’t alienate the soccer moms.

Mark Udall isn’t toast — yet — but his year just got a whole lot tougher.

Dave Weigel:

Previously, I’d thought that Ed Gillespie’s run in Virginia was the ultimate Republican bet on the power of Obamacare to win elections this year. Gardner’s usurped that title. He’s giving up a safe seat to challenge a Democrat, Mark Udall, who’s carved out a good profile for himself (especially on NSA issues) in a state that went Democratic in 2008, 2010*, and 2012. Udall even felt safe enough to vote for Manchin-Toomey; months later, conservative activists successfully recalled two Colorado state senators who voted for gun control.

Cory Gardner, now hunting for a Senate seat.

UPDATE: Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express, writes in to remind me that Cory Gardner, lifetime ACU rating 86.7, has a challenger in State Senator Owen Hill, adding, “some back-room deal making won’t stop his momentum… with Ken Buck out of the race there is a clear Tea Party vs hand-picked establishment matchup.”

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