DENVER — U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner on Tuesday released the second of two ads touting his support for renewable energy and over-the-counter birth control pills, calling himself "a new kind of Republican" as he tries to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in a state that has become increasingly reluctant to elect members of the GOP.
The ads come during the traditional post-Labor Day campaign home stretch and show Gardner's attempt to extract himself from the bind on Republicans in this swing state where coastal transplants have pushed the politics to the left.
Democrats have won every top-of-the-ticket statewide race in Colorado since 2004, and Udall and his allies have followed the established playbook by attacking Gardner as against reproductive rights and the environment.
In his two new spots, Gardner hits back.
In the first, which launched Monday, Gardner walks past wind turbines and asks, "So what's a Republican, like me, doing at a wind farm?" He notes that he co-authored legislation, backed by a former Democratic governor, to create a state agency to support new Colorado renewable energy businesses. The ad's female narrator calls Gardner "a new kind of Republican."
Then in the spot unveiled Tuesday, Gardner, who is anti-abortion, highlights his proposal to make birth control pills available without a prescription. Udall, Gardner tells a mostly-female audience in the ad, "wants to keep government bureaucrats between you and your health care plan."
Gardner's campaign and other conservatives have said the congressman is responding to a Democratic caricature of his positions.
But Democrats have responded with fury, contending that Gardner is trying to sell himself as a centrist Democrat in the line of Udall, a well-known environmentalist and abortion rights supporter. They noted that Gardner's birth control proposal and ad come after Udall and others hammered him for his prior support of measures to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs, which could outlaw some forms of birth control. Gardner has since disavowed one of those measures.
"Unlike Congressman Gardner, I don't see access to contraception and family planning services as election-year gimmicks," Udall said in a statement. "They're fundamental rights that we must protect. And Coloradans know that I'll do just that."
Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, said Gardner's ads are clearly "on Democratic turf," but that changing his positions and emphasis may not damage him.
"It's easy to attack a candidate who does that as a flip-flopper, but hard to show that much evidence that that hurts a politician in the end," Masket said. "While taking a wrong stance on an issue important to voters can hurt a candidate."
Republicans need to net six Senate seats in November to win control of the chamber.
Most polls show Gardner is effectively tied with Udall, with the Democratic incumbent maintaining an edge among women.
Women not registered with either party in the Denver suburbs usually decide statewide elections in Colorado and both campaigns are furiously trying to appeal to that demographic.
Gardner is not the only candidate distancing himself from his party. With President Obama highly unpopular in Colorado, Udall is airing an online ad highlighting his criticism of surveillance by the National Security Agency, noting it has occurred under Democratic and Republican administrations.