News Politics

Colorado GOP Senate Candidate Accuses Opponent of Using Abortion to ‘Distract’ Voters

Jason Salzman

In a radio interview, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner said his opponent, Sen. Mark Udall, is “trying to distract voters” by attacking Gardner for his positions on abortion and contraception, which, according to Gardner, "aren't top of mind for people."

Under attack by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) for his hardline anti-abortion position, Republican senatorial candidate Rep. Cory Gardner said on a Denver radio show Saturday that Udall is “trying to distract the voters with issues that, quite frankly, aren’t top of mind for people.”

Gardner’s comment came in response to a question from KNUS 710-AM radio host Craig Silverman about Udall’s advertisements, which have blanketed Colorado TV stations, hammering Gardner for his long-standing efforts to ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and to restrict access to contraception.

Asked by Rewire about Gardner’s statement that abortion issues aren’t top of mind for people, Colorado College political science professor Robert D. Loevy said, “That’s more of a wish, or a campaign goal, than a statement of fact. If Udall and the Democrats can run enough ads, and they are dramatic enough—and the ones they’re running now are effective—if they succeed with that, then it’s an issue.”

“Political scientists refer to the adage, ‘The battle is about what the battle is about,’” Loevy continued. “What that means is candidates have to establish issues. If you can make the battle about your issue rather than the other person’s, you’ll win the election.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

“He’s trying to play down the abortion and contraception issue, because recent elections in Colorado have proven that those issues are losers for Republican candidates, most conspicuously when [Colorado Sen.] Michael Bennet used them against [Republican] Ken Buck in 2010. Cory Gardner would like to have this issue off the table.”

In his radio interview, Gardner said people in Colorado are worried about “their family’s economy, how they are going to afford to send kids off to college, how they are going to fill up with a tank of gas that’s almost $4 a gallon right now; those are the issues that the people of Colorado are worried about.”

“Gardner’s not wrong,” said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report. “Pull up the Gallup issues, and you’ll see these [abortion] issues don’t resonate with the electorate as a whole. But they do appeal to the Democratic base and drop-off voters, especially women. Was there a better way to say it? Probably.”

Women are a key voting bloc in Colorado, and getting them to the polls in the upcoming midterm election is critical for Udall, Duffy said.

“Reproductive health care is a critical part of any woman’s economic future and affects her bottom line,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Executive Director Karen Middleton via email, when informed by Rewire of Gardner’s radio comment. “Ninety-nine percent of American women have used birth control, and they know how much it costs. Cory Gardner still doesn’t get it about why these issues matter in a very real way to Colorado women and families.”

Seventy percent of Colorado’s registered voters are less likely to back candidates who want to restrict access to contraception, according to an NBC/Marist poll released Tuesday.

In Colorado, where the governor’s office and the state legislature are controlled by pro-choice Democrats, a bill banning nearly all abortion was defeated in March. Another state bill, allowing prosecutors to bring charges against people who harm an “unborn member of the species homo sapiens,” failed to make it through in February. Nationally, states have passed 21 laws so far this year restricting abortion.

Gardner’s statement reflects comments he made during his first congressional campaign in 2010, when he defeated Betsy Markey, a pro-choice Democrat trying to hold her seat in a Republican-leaning congressional district.

In response to Markey’s attacks on his hardline anti-abortion positions, including his support of Colorado’s failed “personhood” amendment in 2008, Gardner said at the time, “Right now the only person talking about social issues in this campaign is Betsy Markey.” He promised reporters not to pursue an anti-abortion agenda if elected to Congress.

After winning the election, however, Gardner co-sponsored bills to redefine rape, defund Planned Parenthood, and to define a “person” in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to include all human development, beginning at the fertilized egg (zygote) stage.

News Politics

Colorado Republicans Pick Anti-Choice County Commissioner for U.S. Senate Race

Jason Salzman

Darryl Glenn, an anti-choice Colorado Springs County Commissioner, defeated a pro-choice GOP rival and three other anti-choice Republicans in the race to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet in November.

In Colorado’s Republican senatorial primary Tuesday, Darryl Glenn, a conservative county commissioner from Colorado Springs, scored a decisive victory over Jack Graham, a former Colorado State University official, who stood out from the GOP field of five candidates for his atypical pro-choice stance.

Glenn received about 38 percent of the primary vote versus nearly 25 percent for Graham, who finished second.

Glenn made no secret of his anti-choice stance during the primary election, describing himself in interviews as an “unapologetic Christian, constitutional conservative” and supporting “personhood” rights for fertilized human eggs (zygotes), a stance that could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception.

Consistent with this, Glenn is also opposed to the Roe v. Wade decision.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Glenn frequently brought up his faith in interviews. For example, Glenn broke out from his Republican rivals at the GOP state convention in April, where he gave an impassioned speech during which he discussed Planned Parenthood and opposing abortion ​before delegates voted him on to the GOP primary ballot.

Asked about the speech by conservative radio host Richard Randall, Glenn said, “Well, that wasn’t me. That was the Holy Spirit coming through, just speaking the truth.”

Seriously?” replied the KVOR radio host.

Absolutely,” Glenn replied on air. “This campaign has always been about honoring and serving God and stepping up and doing the right thing.”

Political observers say Glenn’s position on abortion, coupled with his other conservative stances and his promise never to compromise, spell trouble for him in November’s general election against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

“Glenn’s stance on abortion isn’t necessarily disqualifying,” Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, which offers non-partisan election analysis, in Washington D.C., told Rewire via email. “Colorado has sent pro-life Republicans to the Senate. But, the cumulative effect of all Glenn’s conservative positions on social, economic, and foreign policy, as well as his association with Tea Party-affiliated groups and his lack of funding make it very, very difficult to see a path to victory for him.”

In the final weeks of the primary, Glenn was supported by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Glenn’s ties to the right wing of the Republican Party drew criticism during the campaign from GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He criticized Glenn for accepting the endorsement of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which gave Glenn $500,000.

Duffy doesn’t expect the race to be “very competitive,” an observation that aligns with the “Democrat favored” assessment of the race by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. Last year, Bennet was widely considered one of only two vulnerable U.S. Senate Democrats.

“Darryl Glenn’s support for ‘personhood’ puts him on the wrong side of Colorado voters’ values, including many pro-choice Republicans and unaffiliated voters,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, in an email to Rewire. “Support for reproductive freedom crosses party lines in Colorado, as demonstrated by the landslide losses by three ‘personhood’ ballot measures. Glenn’s chances of beating pro-choice champion Michael Bennet were already slim. This puts it closer to none.”

Glenn did not immediately return a call for comment.

In 2014, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is anti-choice, defeated pro-choice Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who hammered Gardner on his abortion stance throughout the campaign. 

Gardner threw his support behind Glenn Wednesday, reportedly saying to Roll Call that Glenn has fundraising challenges ahead of him but that he’s “winning when nobody expected him to.” And that, Gardner was quoted as saying, “bodes well for November.”

News Politics

U.S. Senate Candidate’s Abortion Stance Sets Him Apart From Fellow GOP Opponents in Colorado

Jason Salzman

Former Colorado State University athletics director Jack Graham is backing a “woman’s right to choose” as he competes against four self-described “pro-life” Republicans in a primary to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in November’s election.

In Colorado, where Republicans like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in 2014 and GOP senatorial candidate Ken Buck in 2010 are known for taking hard-line anti-abortion stances during the Republican primary and then moderating their positions for the consumption of general-election voters, a GOP senatorial candidate this year is turning heads. The candidate, former Colorado State University athletics director Jack Graham, is backing a “woman’s right to choose” as he competes against four self-described “pro-life” Republicans in a primary to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in November’s election.

Graham repeatedly states in speeches, as he does on his website, that the “government’s role in our lives should be kept to a minimum.” In keeping with this, he adds, “I support and I believe in a woman’s right to choose; and that our government does not belong in this decision.”

“I feel deeply about the right to choose, just as I do about the sanctity of life,” Graham told the Pueblo Chieftain in April.

Graham supports Roe v. Wade and praises Planned Parenthood’s ability to respond in “real time” when sexual health crises arise, like the AIDS epidemic, which he witnessed in the 1980s.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

As for details on the meaning of his abortion stance, Graham’s website states that “the government should not participate in any way in the funding of abortion procedures or abortion counseling,” and it also states that continued funding for Planned Parenthood “should be predicated upon their complete discontinuation of abortion activities.” He’s also opposed to “late-term” and “partial-birth” abortions.

Still, Graham’s position, particularly his use of pro-choice language, like “a women’s right to choose,” to describe his stance, sets him apart from his four GOP primary opponents, even making headlines like this one in the Pueblo Chieftain: “GOP Senate hopeful is pro-choice.”

The other four GOP primary candidates are anti-choice in varying degrees. Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County Commissioner who was voted onto the primary ballot by Republicans at their state convention, supports so-called personhood, according to Colorado Right to Life, meaning he believes life begins at conception, and fertilized human eggs (zygotes) should be given legal rights.

“I am an unapologetic pro-life American,” Glenn said during a recent televised debate. “I don’t agree with the decision of Roe v. Wade.”

Businessmen Robert Blaha and Ryan Frazier and former state Rep. Jon Kyser (R-Jefferson County) all say they are “pro-life.”

The question is, will Graham’s abortion stance affect his chances of victory in Tuesday’s GOP primary?

“From a purely political strategy standpoint, I’m inclined to think it will help him,” said John Sraayer, professor of political science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, in an interview with Rewire. “He doesn’t need all the Republican voters in the primary, he just needs to get more than the other candidates.”

Straayer said Graham’s position will hurt him with more Republican primary voters than not, but in a low-turnout primary election, with votes divided among five candidates, Graham could benefit from “standing out” on reproductive rights.

“The people on the pro-life side have four choices,” Straayer told Rewire. “They can only pick one, so the pro-life vote will be fragmented.”

Straayer pointed out that Graham’s campaign benefits from being run by political consultant Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado state party chairman, who managed South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s upset victory of Democrat Tom Daschle in 2005.

Graham, who became a Republican about a year ago, did not return a call from Rewire seeking comment.

No public polling on Graham’s primary race is available, but the latest campaign finance report shows that Graham is in the lead. He has given his campaign $1.5 million and has more cash on hand than any of his opponents, with over $800,000 in the bank, as the Colorado Statesman reported. Graham’s closest GOP opponent, Blaha, has over $270,000 in cash, after loaning his campaign $1 million earlier this year.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet has $5.7 million in the bank, seven times as much as Graham.

In 2014, Sen. Gardner defeated pro-choice Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, in part, by claiming legislation he co-sponsored to outlaw abortion was merely symbolic, when in fact, it was not.