DENVER -- State Rep. Amy Stephens decided late Tuesday night to end her campaign for U.S. Senate after her friend, Congressman Cory Gardner, decided to jump into the race.
Stephens, R-Monument, first heard from Gardner on Monday night that he was considering a late entry into the race to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who appears increasingly vulnerable to a strong challenge as Obamacare concerns continue to hurt Democrats with voters.
"There was pain," Stephens said on 850 KOA Wednesday morning. "I had a lot of crying volunteers yesterday."
But Stephens, like most clear-eyed conservatives, understand that Gardner will give the GOP its best chance to take out Udall.
"Cory's been a long-time friend of mine," Stephens said. "More than that, I think Cory's the great uniter in the party. He already comes with a lot of resources and as a veteran congressman, he gives us our best chance to win.
"I had a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I think this is the right thing to do."
Stephens said she believed she could have won the primary had Gardner stayed out but pledged to campaign for Gardner throughout the year.
She also pushed back at state Sen. Owen Hill's contention that the Senate re-shuffle was the result of some backroom deal.
"He's a famous conspiracy-theorist," Stephens said, explaining that Republicans have a prime opportunity to end a decade-long losing streak in Colorado.
"The question is: who's going to be the adult in the room here."
Udall campaign blasts 'Centennial State Swap'
A day after releasing a rather bland statement about Gardner's entry into the race, Udall's campagn shifted things up a notch on Thursday, issuing a more pointed statement about what it termed a "shady backroom deal" between Gardner and other Republicans.
“It’s no surprise that a Washington ideologue like Congressman Cory Gardner worked with party bosses to cook up the ‘Centennial State Swap,’ the shady scheme hatched behind closed doors that enabled him to swoop into the Senate race," said Udall's new spokesman, Chris Harris, a former American Bridge staffer who just joined the campaign this week.
"Rather than bring Colorado’s independence to Congress, Gardner is bringing Washington-style backroom deals to Colorado," Harris continued.
"Gardner may fit in among ideologues in Washington, but he has little in common with most Coloradans. From privatizing Medicare and wanting to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest to shutting down the government and gutting education funding, Gardner is simply way out of the mainstream in Colorado."
Other Republicans considering challenging Buck in CD-4
Ken Buck, who'd been Stephens's main rival for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination, announced Tuesday that he'd be dropping his bid to unseat Udall and running instead for Gardner's soon-to-be-vacant House seat.
He may have some company on the Republican side.
State Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, has been reaching out to supporters to gauge whether or not he should challenge Buck in the 4th Congressional District race.
"It's an honor people have called me and asked me to consider this," said Renfroe, who's term-limited at the legislature. "My wife and I are praying about it and it'd be quite an honor to represent the 4th. It'd be quite an honor to serve."
Whoever wins the Republican nomination in the district is a heavy favorite to wind up in Washington, DC, with the GOP holding an 11-point voter registration advantage over Democrats in that district.
"I think there are several people out there looking at this who would do a great job representing the 4th, including Ken, who I've supported in the past," Renfroe said.
"But it's not his seat yet. It's an open seat."
In addition to Renfroe, state Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth, Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, who led the northern Colorado secession movement last year, are all reportedly considering taking a shot at Gardner's seat.