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Stakes high for November

City Sage

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Colorado Republican Congressman Cory Gardner was anointed by his party to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall in November. The stakes couldn't be higher — for Udall, Colorado and the nation.

In pre-election maneuvering, Dems actually ran TV spots indirectly touting Tom Tancredo for governor, telling GOP primary voters that Tancredo was "too conservative for Colorado." The strategy backfired and the easily caricatured Tea Party favorite lost to grizzled veteran Bob Beauprez.

Beauprez's 2006 run for governor was an epic political disaster. Plagued by verbal stumbles, and accused by Dems of comically self-contradictory positions on the issues, he was mocked as "Both Ways Bob." The label stuck, especially after he was photographed making a point with his arms crossed, fingers pointed in opposite directions. Democrat Bill Ritter won by a 57-40 margin.

But in today's politics, 2006 might as well be 1906. Beauprez's bio (inherited family ranch, sold it to developers, got into banking, ran for Congress, served three terms, ran for governor, disappeared) is stolidly conventional. He's the kind of traditional conservative who can appeal to moderates.

The once-bulletproof Gov. John Hickenlooper has made significant political missteps, and Beauprez can pose as the wise elder statesman, ready to rescue the state from the incumbent's bumbling. Most importantly, Beauprez won't embarrass Gardner.

The real powers in the national GOP don't give a rat's ass about the Colorado governor's race. It doesn't much matter who governs some two-bit state in the flyovers, but control of the U.S. Senate matters very much indeed.

Consider: If Republicans get a Senate majority and retain it in 2016, they'll be able to frustrate any and all initiatives of the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton administrations. Even more significantly, four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are 75 or older, making multiple vacancies on the court highly likely in the next six years. By refusing to confirm Obama/Clinton nominees, Republicans could stymie change for decades to come.

Global warming, campaign finance, corporate accountability — pick one or all. So expect big GOP donors, led by the often-demonized Koch Brothers, to pour tens of millions into the Gardner-Udall matchup.

What's their game plan? Their candidate, Gardner, is young (39), smart, telegenic and fiercely ambitious. He gave up a safe House seat to take on a reasonably popular incumbent. To do so, he must have been assured of literally unlimited funding support from the brothers K and their allies.

According to an investigative piece published June 17 by The Nation, Rep. Gardner and other GOP hopefuls recently attended a "Secret Billionaire Summit" at an exclusive California resort, which the Kochs had taken over for a long weekend. Yuma native Gardner, like a prize steer at the Colorado State Fair, was being paraded before potential buyers.

He even had the chance to show his stuff in an "interview" as his handlers put him through his paces. As reported: "On Monday morning, conservative radio host and former Koch operative Jeff Crank was to interview Representatives [Tom] Cotton and Gardner in a session titled 'The Senate: A Window of Policy Opportunity for Principled Leaders.'"

You may recall Crank as the once-promising Colorado Springs Republican, heir apparent to U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley. Doug Lamborn dashed that dream, but Crank still is a player, albeit not at the level he once expected.

The Kochs want to make sure their acolytes are on message before they open their checkbooks. That carefully massaged and targeted message is already out there, and it may resonate with Colorado voters.

It's all about the "new energy economy," a golden land of jobs, opportunity, energy independence and prosperity for everyone willing to work. All we have to do is untangle the government's regulatory thicket, sell our super-cheap natural gas to our allies (thereby putting it to Putin), approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and put America back to work.

It's a clever strategy. Blame Udall for six years of recession, stagnation, failed policies and national malaise. It might work, but if not, Gardner will learn anew what he already knows.

Prize steers begin as pets, and end up at the slaughterhouse.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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