After a four-month-long race, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic challenger John Hickenlooper will learn who Colorado voters prefer Tuesday night.
Hickenlooper, a Denver Democrat and former two-term governor, began the day as the front-runner following a month of polls that showed him with a significant lead over Gardner, a Yuma Republican. Democrats see a Hickenlooper win as a key step in taking control of the U.S. Senate next year.
Gardner parlayed short careers in the Colorado General Assembly and U.S. House into a 2014 run for Senate, where he rode anti-Obama sentiment to an unexpected and narrow win over then-Sen. Mark Udall. But anti-Trump sentiment and Colorado’s increasingly Democratic lean made him an underdog from the start against Hickenlooper, whose missteps did little to shrink his polling lead.
Hickenlooper began the 2020 election cycle as a presidential candidate and repeatedly vowed not to run for Senate, saying he was not “cut out” for the job, that he would “hate it,” that being a senator would not bring him “any satisfaction or delight,” and that he would likely not be a successful candidate or senator.
But after dropping out of the presidential race in August 2019 and at the urging of national Democrats, he announced a run for Senate. In the weeks after, several top Democratic candidates dropped out and threw their support behind Hickenlooper. Eventually only progressive candidate Andrew Romanoff remained, and Hickenlooper easily defeated him in a primary election June 30.
That night, Gardner kicked off the general election race by calling Hickenlooper “the most corrupt governor in the history of Colorado,” and he rarely pulled punches in the four months and four days that followed, using debates, television ads and social media to endlessly criticize Hickenlooper for twice violating the state’s gift ban and for refusing to comply with a subpoena to testify about the violations.
“It’s a very clear contrast between somebody who believes the people of Colorado are first — that’s what I believe — and somebody who believes their own self-interests are first and that they want to go to Washington to line their own pockets,” Gardner said during a debate in Pueblo last month.
Hickenlooper, on the other hand, largely focused on policy, namely health care, and Gardner’s support of President Donald Trump, harking back often to a rally the two Republicans hosted in Colorado Springs this February. Hickenlooper used attack ads for the first time in his 17-year political career, saying they were necessary given a barrage of attacks from Gardner and his GOP allies.
“Donald Trump told us Cory Gardner has been with him 100%, not with Colorado,” one of Hickenlooper’s final television ads stated. “How’s that working out for you?”
Through it all, public polls remained virtually unchanged. In August 2019, they showed Hickenlooper leading by 13 percentage points. An October 2020 poll showed the same margin. On average, the Democrat led by about 10 percentage points in the month before Tuesday’s election. At no point in the 14 months after Hickenlooper joined the race did a poll show Gardner tied or in the lead.
Polls close at 7 p.m. in Colorado. Check back later for updates on this race.
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