In a race polls had consistently neck-and-neck, Republican Cory Gardner celebrated a decisive victory for one of Colorado's two U.S. Senate seats Tuesday night over incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. Gardner becomes the first candidate to unseat an incumbent Colorado Senator since 1978.
With 70 percent of Colorado precincts reporting, Gardner took a commanding 51 percent lead to 44 percent. The win ends a 16 year career in Congress for Udall who currently serves on the Armed Services, Energy and Natural Resources, and the Select Committee on Intelligence in the Senate.
“As Republicans in Colorado we have got used to the saying, wait until the next election. Well I’ve got news for you, that next election? It finally happened,” said Gardner.
Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at the Colorado Republican watch party in Denver’s Tech Center, Gardner pledged to end the gridlock in the U.S. Congress and called his win a charge to be the tip of the spear.
“The vanguard of the movement that is sweeping our nation, to pick the shackle of gridlock, and to fundamentally change the dysfunction of Washington D.C,” he said.
Gardner’s atypical entrance into the U.S. Senate began in late February when he abruptly swapped races with then senatorial candidate Weld County District Attorney Republican Ken Buck, who in turn ran and won Gardner’s 4th District congressional seat.
The move, while unusual, turned a race early favored for Udall on its heels and made it a GOP sprint to November 4th and a seeming toss-up right to Election Day.
The pair often squared off about the topic of reproductive rights during debates including one at The Denver Post in early October.
"The fact is I support over the counter contraception made available without a prescription," said Gardner in that debate. "When it comes to the other issues, those are legal and nothing is going to change that."
In that same debate Udall defended his decision to focus so much of his campaign on women's reproductive issues.
"Reproductive rights are important to millions of Coloradans," Udall said. "Colorado was the second state to grant the franchise to women."
Calling Udall's an "obnoxious one-issue campaign," about reproductive rights; The Denver Post endorsed Gardner further adding to the tough road for the Senator.
Udall continued to hammer away at his Republican challenger right up to Election Day. Udall For Colorado Press Secretary Kristin Lynch said the campaign took a page from the playbook that helped U.S. Senator Michael Bennet win against Buck in 2010.
"We're doubling and tripling that effort on the ground," she said.
Public opinion of both candidates remained nearly evenly split with a Quinnipiac poll released Monday showing the race too close to call, with Gardner leading Udall 45 percent to 43 percent, within the 3.4 percent margin of error. That was closer than earlier polls showing a wider, but still close, Gardner lead of 46 percent to 39 percent.
Gardner’s entrance catapulted the race into the national spotlight as Republican wins across the country helped the party as it worked to gain six seats and control of the Senate for the final two years of Barack Obama’s presidency.