After last month’s primary, incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has begun campaigning in earnest against former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s a race that has received national attention as one of the key seats for both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.
“We’re going to see this race become highly nationalized,” said Paul DeBell, assistant professor of political science at Fort Lewis College. “We’re one of the few seats that the fate of the Senate relies upon.”
Polls conducted in June have so far shown Hickenlooper with a double-digit lead over Gardner, with the overall mood of Colorado seen as leaning Democratic. A spokesperson for Hickenlooper’s campaign said in the month of June, the campaign reached out to 2 million voters via text or calling.
“He was a relatively popular governor, and he has a large base of support in Colorado,” DeBell said.
Gardner won a tight race in 2014, eking out a victory by less than two percentage points over incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. Ads aired by Gardner and groups supporting him at the time painted Udall as someone who was in lockstep with President Barack Obama and appealed to Coloradans’ independent streak.
Colorado has more unaffiliated voters than Democrats or Republicans, which DeBell said leaves room for either candidate to reach out to voters outside of their party base.
In 2020 though, Gardner is the incumbent senator being tied closely to the president. In February, President Donald Trump hosted a campaign event with the senator in Colorado Springs, and Gardner has been walking a fine line between supporting his fellow Republican in the Oval Office and maintaining an image as an independent politician.
“The Trump administration, particularly in light of the COVID response and in light of the handling of issues surrounding the racial justice and equity movement, has lost some headway with independents,” DeBell said. “That could be a difficult thing for Gardner to overcome.”
Gardner welcomed the president’s support, saying he hoped the president would come to Colorado to sign the Great American Outdoors Act or tour the new Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction or the U.S. Space Force facilities at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
“I hope the president comes to Colorado, I’d like to see the entire Colorado congressional delegation join him,” Gardner said in an interview with The Durango Herald.
Campaigning amid a pandemicBoth Senate candidates will travel around the state even as Colorado navigates the coronavirus pandemic, and said they will be following community guidelines along the way. But the election will be a test of the campaigns’ infrastructure as they work to reach voters who may be hesitant to leave home.
“With the pandemic, we’ve obviously had to focus on saving people’s jobs and saving people’s businesses, and providing help to individuals who have been hurt through this pandemic, both from a health standpoint as well as an economic standpoint,” Gardner said.
Trump’s response to the pandemic seems to be weighing down his support, as his national approval rating is currently at 40%, nearing the lowest of his presidency. That could hurt Gardner’s re-election chances.
“Trump has in many ways been able to dominate political messages, he’s very savvy with understanding how the news cycle works,” DeBell said, “but he’s up against something that literally kills people.”
For Hickenlooper, the key is to avoid the early accusations of corruption brought up during the primary by rival Andrew Romanoff and continue to tie his opponent to Trump, DeBell said.
“I think Hickenlooper has the great advantage of name recognition. That’s a big deal,” DeBell said. “When you combine this with a movement at a state level for Colorado to become more left-leaning, that I think bodes pretty well for a pretty stable lead.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgJacob Wallace is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.