LITTWIN: Colorado GOP wants another Gardner, but Coffman’s not it

The Colorado GOP have no more Cory Gardners to come to the rescue. They don’t even have another Mike Coffman, who is many things, among them dogged, determined and relentless. But one thing he’s not is Cory Gardner.

I’m not sure why Mike Coffman decided not to run against Michael Bennet for what looks like a vulnerable U.S. Senate seat, but I do have a few theories.

What I am sure of, though, is what Coffman’s decision means.

There are two ways to put this. One is the nice way: that the GOP is scrambling to find a candidate to replace Coffman. And the other is the hard truth: There is no realistic candidate to replace Coffman.

The Colorado GOP have no more Cory Gardners to come to the rescue. They don’t even have another Mike Coffman, who is many things, among them dogged, determined and relentless. But one thing he’s not is Cory Gardner.

And what you have to remember is that Gardner, the rising star, running in a midterm election, running in a Republican year, beat Mark Udall by not quite three points.

So put yourself in Coffman’s place. He has made the 6th District a relatively safe seat. He would have to run for Senate in a presidential year, which has become a major Democratic advantage. He would start out, despite his two statewide wins in down-ticket races, with relatively low voter ID. Bennet may not poll well, but he is very popular with the Denver money people that Coffman would need.

And if Coffman were to run and lose, that would probably be the end of a political career that, as of now, could stretch on for years, even with the occasional semi-private flirtation with the birther crowd.

There are stories that Coffman was being pushed to run. But I’m sure he was also being pushed to make a decision early. Without him in the 6th, the House district would become a major target for Democrats. And if he wasn’t going to run for the Senate, Republicans did have to find someone.

So, now the hunt begins. Here’s a list of possibilities courtesy of ace reporter Lynn Bartels, who got the Coffman scoop: U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, state Senate President Bill Cadman, state Senate President Pro Tem Ellen Roberts, state Sen. Owen Hill, Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

And what you have to remember is that Gardner, the rising star, running in a midterm election, running in a Republican year, beat Mark Udall by not quite three points.

You see the problem, don’t you? Try putting “U.S. Senator” before any of those names. I mean, without smiling. It’s the Ken Buck problem. He was the early leader at this point in the race against Udall, which is why desperate national Republicans begged Gardner to get into the race. He had to decide whether to stay in the House, where he was destined for a leadership position, or to run against Udall in a midterm or to wait two years and run against Bennet. Gardner made the smart tactical choice.

For Republicans, it was the only choice. And that’s where they find themselves again, except with Gardner already taken.

Democrats were convinced Coffman was going to run because they couldn’t conceive of anyone else having a chance. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when Gardner was joined by Josh Penry and Frank McNulty as rising stars on the GOP bench. Penry, you remember, dropped out of the 2010 gubernatorial race and got into the money race. He has since become a major behind-the-scenes force.

Frank McNulty? In his last moment in the spotlight, he was seen using his role as House speaker to stop civil unions from becoming Colorado law, which put him untold miles on the wrong side of history.

Now there is no bench.

For Republicans, it was the only choice. And that’s where they find themselves again, except with Gardner already taken.

The strongest general-election would-be candidate left might be Ellen Roberts, a pro-choice moderate who can’t be nominated because she’s a pro-choice moderate. Someone from what is now the Neville-family culture-war wing of the party — Owen Hill, maybe — could be a strong primary contender, if a no-chancer in November. I don’t know who runs from the Bill Owens wing, but the state establishment will try to coalesce around someone.

The lesson taken from the Cory Gardner candidacy is that to win in a purple state you can run with a conservative record but only if you can figure out a way to co-sponsor a federal personhood bill you insist doesn’t exist and still come off sounding like a moderate.

The problem for the GOP is that while it’s one thing to understand the lesson, it’s another to find a Cory Gardner to pull it off.

Mike Littwin writes for the
Colorado Independent
(www.coloradoindependent.com).

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