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.
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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.”
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.