Colorado’s Senate race is one of the more hotly contested of the midterm cycle. The seat, in one of the nation’s truly purple states, pits incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall against U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican, in one of the core five or six races that will likely determine who controls the legislature’s upper house. Gardner, a rising star in his party that made his name bringing clean energy to the state, took the lead last month and currently leads by an average of three points. Meanwhile, Udall’s approval ratings have sunk in lockstep with President Obama’s this year, and his attempt to run what is essentially a one-issue campaign attacking Gardner on women’s issues has largely faltered.
The race’s first debate took place Wednesday night, and was as contentious as many expected. Few anticipated the moderators would take on as active a role as they did, fact-checking and pressing both candidates, often with three or four prompts, to answer a question.
Their part in the mayhem came to the fore on the topic of the Federal Life and Conception Act, better known as the “Personhood Amendment,” which Gardner cosponsored in the House’s last legislative session. He publicly renounced his support for the bill, which would ban abortions and certain types of contraception nationwide, in March, after Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar ballot measure in that state.
Since then, he has repeatedly characterized the bill as a “statement that [he] support[s] life,” and denied that it is a bill to end abortion. A moderator disputed this with the debate’s most pointed challenge.
“We’re not going to debate [whether the bill ends abortion] here tonight because it’s a fact. Your cosponsors say so, your opponents say so, and independent fact checkers say so.” Later on, he drove the point home: “Everyone seems to have a cohesive idea of what this is with the exception of you.”
Gardner’s response was a familiar one.
“Again, I do not support the personhood amendment, the bill you’re referring to is simply a statement that I support life.” This, and the fact that he “has answered this question many times,” were essentially his responses to the next four questions. His defense was bordering on farce by the time he attempted to compare his new stance to that of his opponent’s on gay rights.
“I’ll repeat the words of Senator Udall who said when he changed his position on the issue of gay marriage that a good faith change of position should be considered a virtue, not a vice.” It sounds good, except that Rep. Gardner’s change of position is not at all in good faith. As a moderator was keen to point out, his name remains on the bill as a sponsor. All that has changed is that he now refuses to acknowledge that the bill could actually become a law and have a profound impact on the lives of people both within and beyond Colorado’s borders.
The episode does not seem to have made much of a splash in the race thus far. A Quinnipiac University survey of likely voters, out today, has Gardner at 47 percent and Udall at 41, after a Denver Post poll on Monday had Gardner up just two points. The Post—which endorsed Gardner, calling Udall’s campaign “obnoxious”—highlighted the candidates’ discussion of Ebola and Gardner’s attempt to paint Udall as the president’s lackey before getting to the Personhood Amendment exchange. Udall has attempted to portray Gardner as an extremist, calling him “the 10th most conservative Congressman,” but like his attempt to sweep the female vote by tying his opponent to the “War on Women,” that seems to have fallen on deaf ears.