DENVER – For the record, I hate “House of Cards.” It is so nakedly cynical, so full of fantastical plots, cardboard characters and contempt for its female protagonists that I find it falling far short of the cult favorite it appears to be in Washington, D.C.
But on Friday, Colorado GOP Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner pulled an act of craven political opportunism that would make Frank Underwood proud. After years of backing every extremist anti-woman policy put forth by the tea party – including Republican bills in Congress and the Colorado legislature redefining rape, defunding Planned Parenthood, banning abortion for victims of rape or incest and Colorado’s “personhood” ballot measure in 2008 and 2010 – Gardner told the Denver Post he’d had a change of heart on personhood and no longer supported it.
Was this a change of heart or a reaction to some bad polling numbers? Because when you’re on the wrong side of 70 percent of Colorado voters – personhood lost 70 percent 30 percent in 2010 – it’s pretty obvious it’s the latter. And the problem for Gardner is not only does this solidify his narrative as a political opportunist, he’ll still get hammered for supporting personhood and the rest of his anti-woman record anyway. If Gardner’s against personhood, why did he cosponsor the federal “Life at Conception Act” last year?
Worse yet, this telegraphs that he knows he’s vulnerable on the issue. Gardner has already, in the words of Denver Post political scribe Lynn Bartels, been eviscerated for his flip-flop. The activist group ProgressNow has dubbed him Con Man Cory, posting his extensive anti-abortion, anti-birth-control record on its website. Also worth noting: Neither the Colorado Republican Party nor the National Republican Senatorial Committee have said a peep about Gardner’s sudden switch.
More than anything, the personhood reversal is Exhibit A of why Gardner is a seriously flawed candidate and why FiveThirtyEight and Nate Silver only gave him a 40 percent chance against Udall: “he comes from a conservative district and has amassed a conservative voting record that may or may not translate well in the Denver suburbs.”
Well, yes. Personhood lost in swing suburban Jefferson County 74 percent to 26 percent in 2010. Gardner himself said at the Jefferson County GOP Assembly on Saturday that it was the linchpin to his election efforts. The political calculation is both craven and simple: pretend he’s changed and hope nobody notices his history and policy positions.
Gardner’s Fourth Congressional District, especially the parts of it that voted to secede from the state, are a long way away from the Colorado counties that determine elections here. Gardner’s challenge of reconciling the contradiction of a record at odds with the majority of Colorado voters would be beyond even Frank Underwood.