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CO-Sen: Cory Gardner (R) Is Now The Dean Heller Of 2020

3 min read

I’ll have a full election analysis results diary once the recounts and runoffs are over and the remaining congressional races are called. But in the meantime, I’m going to get an early start on the 2020 races. Since it will be a Presidential election, the Senate will be a big focus. It’s potentially another tough map for Democrats but there are certain Republicans that 2020 could be a nightmare for. We all know U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R. ME) will be the top target but with Democrats doing very well in the West, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R. CO) is already looking like the Dean Heller (R. NV) of 2020:

So how does Gardner — the most endangered GOP senator up for election in 2020, at least based on 2016 presidential vote margins — navigate the tricky political waters of being a Republican from an increasingly blue-leaning state?

The obvious answer is that Gardner should consider moving toward the middle on certain issues, much like he has on marijuana and criticizing the president. But so far, Gardner's votes have generally gone with the new Republican mainstream.

Unlike his Republican colleagues Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Gardner was never considered an on-the-fence type for high-profile, highly partisan votes on the Affordable Care Act or Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court. Indeed, his party considers his votes on controversial subjects as “safe,” meaning he will have a more difficult time separating himself from Trump and the new Republican mainstream — and we saw hints of that from the midterms.

In the 6th Congressional District, Democrats repeatedly attacked GOP Republican Mike Coffman for voting with the president 96 percent of the time, a line of attack that proved effective. Democratic challenger Jason Crow beat Coffman decisively, capitalizing on anti-Trump furor to take a seat that had proven stubbornly Republican until Trump came along.

“This was a referendum on Trump,” GOP consultant Dick Wadhams says of the elections in Colorado. “And the voters said, 'We don't like him.'”

Gardner votes with Trump 91 percent of the time, according to data website FiveThirtyEight, a stat you'll probably hear a few times over the next two years. That alone will make it hard for Gardner to create a narrative for his re-election bid that wouldn't include Trump. And because Democrats have a good chance of picking up his seat in the 2020 cycle, left-leaning outside money will likely be thrown into TV ads against him — just as Denver-area voters saw with Coffman.

Who knows how things will shake out in 2019 and 2020 but there one thing’s for sure, Gardner is a top target if we are going to get the Senate. After Democrats took over Colorado this year, Gardner is in a tough position to either distance himself from Trump or fully embrace. The later strategy didn’t work out well for Heller. Of course, it’ll be interesting to see which Democrats will rise up to go after Gardner. Stay tuned.

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