Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallEnergy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Two vulnerable senators lack challengers for 2016 MORE’s (D-Colo.) campaign blasted his new challenger, Rep. Cory GardnerCory GardnerOvernight Defense: Senate rejects new FBI surveillance powers | Brexit vote looms | Push for new military aid deal with Israel Senators push vote to condemn Russia's 'reckless actions' Senate rejects gun control background check measures MORE (R-Colo.), for what they called a “Centennial State Swap,” reportedly engaging in dealmaking to clear the GOP field.
Shortly after his announcement, the original front-runner, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, dropped out of the race to run for Gardner’s open seat. On Thursday, another Republican competitor, state Sen. Amy Stephens, also exited and endorsed Gardner.
“It’s no surprise that a Washington ideologue like Congressman Cory Gardner worked with party bosses to cook up the ‘Centennial State Swap,’ the shady scheme hatched behind closed doors that enabled him to swoop into the Senate race,” Udall spokesman Chris Harris said in a statement. “Rather than bring Colorado’s independence to Congress, Gardner is bringing Washington-style backroom deals to Colorado.”
State Sen. Owen Hill, who has received some Tea Party backing, and state Sen. Randy Baumgartner both remain in the primary, and Hill accused Gardner of orchestrating an “insider deal.”
“I’m not surprised at all” Gardner’s in, he told The Hill. “A couple of weeks ago, Cory said he wanted me to get out of the race, and I called him out at the time. I said, ‘This is an insider deal with Ken Buck to try to switch races, and this is the exact kind of insider trading by the Republican establishment that keeps losing us races.’
The narrowed field makes it all the more likely that Gardner will make it through the primary relatively unscathed and without any of the baggage a contentious inter-party fight would bring, setting him up with the best shot to take down Udall.
While Udall still remains the favorite, recent surveys showed his approval ratings were falling in the swing state, and Gardner, Republicans feel, is best-poised to take advantage of that. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month showed voters were split on whether Udall should get another term.
Facing even weak GOP challengers, he only had a slim lead. In a match-up against Buck, he only took 45 percent to Buck’s 42 percent. Udall led Hill by 5 percent, with 44 percent support, and topped businessman Jaime McMillan by 7 percentage points, with 45 percent support. He lead state Rep. Amy Stephens by just 43 percent to 41 percent.