April 25, 2014 Updated: April 25, 2014 at 8:35 am
A scientific poll released Thursday shows again what Republicans can accomplish when they place more emphasis on winning - less on internal party battles over who's the most ideologically pure.
While a field of four Republican gubernatorial candidates each trail Gov. John Hickenlooper by difficult margins, GOP senatorial candidate Cory Gardner runs even with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall - an affable Boulder Democrat from a prominent political dynasty.
Six months ago, no one was talking about the possibility of a Republican senator from Colorado. It was just such a long shot. Udall has fallen for none of the gun-rights traps that have harmed other Colorado Democrats and has never been the center of significant scandal. Nationally and locally, he was generally considered a shoo-in for another six years.
Gardner's campaign has barely started and a Quinnipiac University poll shows him with 44 percent overall support to Udall's 45 percent. With a margin of error plus or minus 2.7 points, it's a dead heat even before the primary. Gardner, a conservative, has a 43 to 41 percent edge among Colorado's all-important independent voters. His edge will likely grow if Udall and his supporters keep making the race about abortion - an important topic, but one of veritable irrelevance in a contest among two men who have never made it a central focus of their political careers.
Voters aren't terribly worried about one Colorado senator causing or preventing abortions. They are worried about one senator's potential effect on the economy. That poses a problem for Udall. He cast the deciding vote that imposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - a jobs-killing, care-rationing law that hurts Colorado families and businesses. The senator remains proud of that vote, which indicates he's out of touch with people it harmed. He has participated lockstep with President Barack Obama in nearly every economic policy decision that burdens Americans today. That's why he wants to talk abortion, clinging to an overused Democratic play that only works against politicians who have made the controversial issue central to their platforms.
Despite Udall's Obama problem, he is in peril mostly because Gardner's primary opponents ?- Ken Buck, Amy Stephens and Owen Hill - exercised the decency and selflessness to get out of the way. They determined which candidate had the best odds of defeating Udall and dropped from the race. As such, Gardner believes he saved at least $1 million in primary expenses and gets to focus his time, energy and money explaining to voters how Udall's economic policies have harmed them. It's a dynamic the crowd of Republican gubernatorial candidates should take to heart.
Throughout the country, Republicans should look at what's happening in the Colorado's senate race, which wasn't in serious play until candidates choose to cooperate. Republicans need to win six Senate races to wrestle control of Washington from Democrats, who have overseen the most sluggish economic recovery in history.
For Republicans, this can no longer be about ideological one-upsmanship and personal political gain. If Republicans genuinely believe in the need for a changing of the guard this fall, they must unite as a party. They must make winning more important than philosophical rigidity and internal party strife. That's how Democrats have won.