A Too-Close-to Predict Colorado Race Could Unseat Mark Udall
Policy + Politics

A Too-Close-to Predict Colorado Race Could Unseat Mark Udall

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Will history repeat itself in Colorado this November – and how much difference will a late spending spree make? 

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) rode a Republican wave in 2010 that ousted incumbent Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey and helped the GOP take control of the House of Representatives. This year, Gardner is hoping to be part of a similar history-making transition by defeating incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) in an election this fall that Republicans hope will give them control of the Senate as well.

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Gardner right now holds a slim lead in the polls, but Udall, a five-term congressman before he won his open Senate seat, is not an opponent to be underestimated. With a sizable fundraising advantage and the backing of a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee desperate to hold onto enough seats to retain control of the upper chamber, Udall remains very much in the race.


Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)

The son of a former congressman, nephew of a former Secretary of the Interior, and cousin of Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Udall, 64, has a history that suggests a life 100 percent rooted in politics. The one-term senator, however, actually spent 20 years working for the Outward Bound program in Colorado before getting into electoral politics. Elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1996, he served one term there before serving five terms in Washington as a Congressman and then moving over to the Senate, to which he was elected in 2008. A dedicated environmentalist, Udall has voted with the Democratic majority on most major issues during his term.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO)

Gardner, 40, has spent most of his adult life in politics, serving as legislative director to former Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard before he was appointed to the Colorado State House of Representatives in 2005. He won a full term in 2006 and served there until he was sworn in as a member of Congress in 2011. Though a conservative on issues like taxes and abortion, Gardner has broken with his party on others, including immigration reform and the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act.


Unlike many other Senate races, there are no overriding political issues driving the campaign, interestingly enough. Both candidates have spent most of their time and money trying to paint an overall negative portrait of their opponent. 

In Udall’s case, that means trying to show Gardner as a radical right-winger. Much of Udall’s advertising effort has focused on Gardner’s past support of a “personhood” amendment to the state’s constitution, which would have endowed a fetus with the same rights as a person. Gardner, however, publicly changed his position on the amendment and no longer supports it because he came to see it restricted access to contraception. He’s also called for contraception to be sold over the counter.

Gardner, for his part, has tried to tie Udall as closely as he can to the unpopular Obama presidency, highlighting the fact that Udall has in general supported the president’s agenda on most major issues, particularly Obamacare.


As a sitting senator, Udall has enjoyed a major fundraising advantage over Gardner. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics found that by mid-June, Udall had raised $13.6 million and spent $7.9 million on the race. Gardner, by contrast, had raised only $5 million and spent just $2 million. 

Yet the candidates’ fundraising tells only part of the story. Both Democratic and Republican interest groups have poured tens of millions of dollars into this race. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $5.7 million on Udall’s behalf, including $950,000 last week, while the conservative Crossroads GPS has spent $5.6 million to help Gardner, including a $1.5 million surge last week.


Poll Date Gardner (R) Udall (D) Spread
RCP Average 9/13 - 10/7 44.8 43.5 Gardner +1.3
FOX News 10/4 - 10/7 43 37 Gardner +6
CBS/NYT/YouGov 9/20 - 10/1 45 48 Udall +3
Rasmussen Reports 9/29 - 9/30 48 47 Gardner +1
USA Today/Suffolk* 9/13 - 9/16 43 42 Gardner +1


Analysts following this race, including Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, note that the polls have been especially responsive to advertising. This could mean that in a close contest, the candidate with the most cash in the homestretch could eke out the win. It’s why the two candidates’ quarterly filings with the Federal Elections Commission, due October 15, will be closely watched. 

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