DENVER — A group founded by moderate lawmakers from both sides of the aisle aiming to push politicians back toward the eroding political center is endorsing Republican Cory Gardner in his campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.
At least, that’s how it was presented in a press release from Gardner’s campaign with the headline: “Bipartisan “No Labels” group endorses Cory Gardner.”
But a spokesman for the group later explained to FOX31 Denver that it is “an implied endorsement” — and that Udall, should he join the group “No Labels”, is eligible for the very same “endorsement.”
“We’d be happy to have Senator Udall sign on, and glad to give him a Seal of Approval as well,” Mark McKinnon of No Labels told FOX31 Denver Monday afternoon. “We asked his office a number of times over the last year.”
The group “No Labels”, founded by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican who ran for president in 2012, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is bestowing its approval upon Gardner, R-Yuma, in the way of what it calls the “Problem Solver Seal of Approval.”
Gardner, who is among 94 members of Congress who pledged to support the group’s goals, is being endorsed by No Labels Monday mostly because he endorsed the group.
Udall is not among the nine senators to have done so.
“We’re proud to award the Problem Solver Seal of Approval to Congressman Gardner,” said McKinnon in the statement released by Gardner’s campaign Monday.
“His vision of success for the people of Colorado and the country incorporates a commitment to consensus building that we believe is critical for tackling some of the nation’s most pressing issues.”
McKinnon did explain that not every lawmaker that is deemed a “Problem Solver” also wins the group’s “seal of approval.”
According to No Labels, which has its own 12-point plan for making Congress work — and, it turns out, quite a lot of labels — the “Problem Solver” distinction is reserved for lawmakers who “if elected, will collaborate with colleagues across the aisle in developing sound policies that support a national strategic agenda based on a set of shared goals.”
Interestingly, Gardner’s voting record ranked him as the 10th most conservative member of the House GOP caucus in 2012 (last year, he was the 98th most conservative Republican in the House).
“I can’t imagine who inside No Labels thought taking a side against a proven moderate in a competitive Senate race was a good idea, but it will do much more damage to No Labels’ already shaky reputation than they probably realize,”an aide to a Senate Democrat told PoliticoPRO on Monday.
“No Labels is going to find a lot of doors closing among moderate Democratic Senate offices after this.”
The endorsement may help Gardner undercut Udall’s effort to portray the relatively unknown Republican congressman as another conservative ideologue in the mold of other recent Republicans who voters have rejected largely over their support for personhood and out-of-the-mainstream positions.
Earlier in the campaign, Gardner reversed course on personhood, saying he no longer supported the ballot proposal to define a fertilized egg as a person, thereby making abortion and even some forms of birth control subject to prosecution.
On Monday, Udall’s campaign continued to hammer Gardner for clearing up an apparent conflict — his disavowal of personhood and his ongoing sponsorship of a federal personhood measure — by saying in a recent interview that he only opposes personhood in Colorado, not at the federal level.
“Gardner’s refusal to disavow his support for the federal bill reaffirms what Udall for Colorado has said all along: Gardner’s beliefs haven’t changed, his ambitions have,” said a release from Udall’s campaign Monday morning.
Not surprisingly, the national group NARAL Pro-Choice officially endorsed Udall on Monday.
“Mark Udall is the only candidate in this race that women and families can trust. That matters to Colorado voters, who have repeatedly rejected personhood measures and the anti-choice candidates who support them,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue.
“Now through Election Day, we will do all we can to ensure Sen. Udall’s reelection.”
Polls show that this race, which may determine control of the Senate in 2015, is a real toss-up, with the margin separating both candidates well within the statistical margins of error.