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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.”

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“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.

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