The Republican National Committee has taken renewed interest in Colorado.
Rep. Cory Gardner has stepped in to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and former congressman Bob Beauprez has stepped up to take on Gov. John Hickenlooper, both considered better prospects than the previous GOP frontrunners.
The RNC is hiring more than a dozen new employees, bringing to 20 the number of national field workers in the battleground state, according to the Associated Press. The organization will also open 12 field offices and plans to have more people working to topple Democrats than during the 2010 election.
Gardner’s entry into the Senate race brought him neck and neck with Udall, according to a new Rasmussen poll. And Beauprez’s campaign has even been applauded by frontrunner Tom Tancredo, who said he would drop out of the race if it became clear that another candidate had the momentum to beat Hickenlooper.
Democrats, meanwhile, are on the defense in Colorado. Udall, in particular, is vulnerable for his support of the Affordable Care Act, especially in light of emails that came to light recently in which some state Division of Insurance employees complained that they felt pressured by Udall’s office to back off on reporting that 250,000 Coloradans had their policies cancelled.
He also differs from most Coloradans on the Keystone XL pipeline — he opposes it, while 66 percent of voters polled recently support building it.
Hickenlooper fared better during the most recent poll, which was released in February. It showed him with a 52 percent job approval rating and a comfortable lead over a gaggle of GOP candidates. But the Quinnipiac University poll was conducted before Beauprez entered the race.
Anecdotally, Republican officials said the shuffle in the races has energized the base in Colorado, with more people signing up to attend the party caucuses last week and an uptick in donations.
“Senator Udall and Governor Hickenlooper are extremely vulnerable, and the RNC is making a serious investment across Colorado to defeat them in November,” RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney told the AP. “This is a new and improved, precinct-level, data-focused get-out-the-vote effort, that in coordination with Colorado GOP will elect Republicans across the state.”
Republicans have no shortage of ammunition with which to take aim at their Democratic opponents. The state legislature, controlled by Democrats in both chambers, consistently made national headlines last year over divisive issues like gun control, energy regulations, civil unions and immigration. Rural Coloradans in 10 counties, having felt marginalized by politicians in Denver, even voted on whether to secede and form a new state.
The GOP hasn’t won an election in Colorado for governor or senator since 2002. That was the year Bill Owens was elected governor and Sen. Wayne Allard was re-elected.
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