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DENVER — The latest TV ad from GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Cory Gardner flips the script, hitting Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall on a women’s health issue: birth control.

The 30-second spot, which features Gardner, R-Yuma, speaking to a town hall-like audience, highlights the candidate’s position on making birth control available over the counter.

It’s the second TV spot from the Republican in two days that seeks to appeal beyond the conservative base on issues the GOP generally tends to avoid, a clear signal that the general election campaign is heating up after the Labor Day holiday.

“What’s the difference between me and Mark Udall on contraception? I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, round the clock, without a prescription — cheaper and easier, for you,” Gardner says, as cutaway shots of women nodding in the audience are sprinkled in.

“Mark Udall’s plan is different,” Gardner continues. “He wants to keep government bureaucrats between you and your healthcare plan. That means more politics, and more profits for drug companies.”

Udall, who is seeking a second six-year term and has attacked Gardner for months over his past support for personhood initiatives and votes on a number of women’s health issues, called the ad “jaw-dropping” and a “ploy that hides Gardner’s true agenda.”

While Gardner disavowed Colorado’s personhood initiative earlier this year, he remains a sponsor of the federal version of the same policy, the Life Begins at Conception Act, which could ban common forms of birth control and abortion.

“Congressman Gardner will do anything to hide his backwards agenda from Colorado women,” said Udall for Colorado spokesperson Kristin Lynch. “The undeniable fact is Gardner continues to push radical, anti-woman measures that would ban common forms of birth control. One 30-second ad doesn’t make up for that.”

ProgressNow Colorado, an activist arm of the state’s Democratic machine, also blasted Gardner for what it called a “deceptive” ad.

“Cory Gardner is desperate to whitewash his anti-woman record because he knows the voters of Colorado are going to reject him in November,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. “It’s ironic that Gardner calls the issues of abortion and contraception a ‘distraction’, and yet here he is releasing another ad on the topic attempting to run away from his record.”

The Udall campaign Tuesday also pointed to an amendment to the state budget Gardner sponsored as a state lawmaker in 2006 that sought to prohibit the state Medicaid program from purchasing Plan B emergency contraception.

“Spending taxpayer dollars on a non-physician oversight use of Plan B pills is something we must consider,” Gardner said during the floor debate on the amendment, which failed.

“I just think we shouldn’t be using Medicaid dollars on the Plan B pill.”

Political analyst Eric Sondermann believes Gardner is smart to tack toward the political center, given the poor track record of Republicans in recent statewide races.

“Cory Gardner’s trying to win an election on somewhat hostile turf. And to do so, he has to move to the middle,” Sondermann said. “On these women’s health issues, I think he would be satisfied just to muddy the waters. This is not an issue he’s going to win the election on; he is just trying not to lose the election on this family of issues.”

Democrats, however, aren’t about to let Gardner position himself as the kind of moderate Democrat that’s been winning statewide contests.

“Colorado already has a moderate Democrat,” said Laura Chapin, a Democratic strategist. “His name is Mark Udall.”

Gardner’s other new ad touts support for wind energy, natural gas

On Monday, Gardner’s campaign released a TV ad highlighting his stance on another issue typically supported by Democrats — new energy.

The ad, which features Gardner walking through a wind farm, frames his support for wind energy as “supporting the next generation.”

In the spot, Gardner claims: “I co-wrote the law to launch our state’s green energy industry.”

That references 2007’s legislation to create the Colorado Clean Energy Development Authority, which Gardner did in fact sponsor.

At the end of the ad, a female narrator says: “Cory Gardner: A new generation; a new kind of Republican.”

That’s the phrase that matters, Sondermann said.

“He absolutely has to get that message across, that he’s a new kind of Republican. We’ve seen for a decade in Colorado that the standard-issue Republican is dead on arrival — it’s not selling.”

Udall’s campaign again dismissed Gardner’s messaging as a ploy.

“It’s puzzling that Congressman Gardner believes he launched Colorado’s clean energy economy in 2007 given that Colorado has been a leader since Mark Udall led the successful bipartisan campaign for a renewable energy standard in 2004,” Lynch said, noting that Gardner’s ad is strikingly similar to one that Udall ran on the same subject during his 2008 campaign.

“I look forward to Congressman Gardner’s next ad, in which I can only assume he will take credit for teaching Peyton Manning how to throw.”

NextGen Climate, the organization founded and funded by California billionaire Tom Steyer to support candidates willing to act to combat climate change, also blasted Gardner’s ad.

“Congressman Gardner’s latest ad claiming to be a clean energy supporter rings about as true as Dracula applying to guard the blood bank. Coloradans shouldn’t be fooled,” NextGen Climate Colorado spokeswoman Abby Leeper said.

“Congressman Gardner has made a career of fighting for big oil companies and big polluters, which is why the Koch Brothers are spending big on his campaign. If Gardner is such a fan of renewable energy, why did he vote against increased solar energy in the state legislature and why does he oppose the EPA rules that move our economy toward cleaner energy?”

Gardner’s campaign argues that it’s Udall, not them, trying to mislead voters that they’re more moderate than they actually are.

“While Cory continues to talk about his long history of service to the people of Colorado, Senator Udall is running away from his record as fast as he can,” said Gardner’s spokesman Alex Siciliano. “He has voted with President Obama 99 percent of the time and has been named the most liberal candidate running for Senate in a competitive race. He lied to the people of Colorado about the ability to keep the insurance they had and liked, and refused to lead when Colorado’s energy economy came under attack from radical environmentalists.

“Whether it be oil and gas, coal, solar, or wind — Cory has stood shoulder to shoulder with all who contribute to Colorado’s energy economy, long before Senator Udall desperately attempted to make this an election year issue. From being one of only 33 Republicans to vote for the Violence Against Women Act to his long-standing support for renewable energy, Cory has never been afraid to do what is right for the people of Colorado.

“Senator Udall’s deceptive and divisive campaign has made one thing clear: he has no plan for the future of Colorado, and he will smear his opponent’s record at all costs.”