WASHINGTON – In a sign he may be angling for a future statewide run, Rep. Cory Gardner has opened a new fundraising organization that allows the Yuma Republican to raise money more efficiently.
Gardner for Colorado is the name of the new joint fundraising committee. Made up of both his candidate committee and his leadership political action committee, the organization allows donors committed to his campaign and to that of GOP candidates he supports to write one check instead of two.
An individual contributor could cut a single check to the new entity for $10,200, an amount that would cover the $5,000 limit for a PAC as well as the $2,600 limit for both a primary and general election.
The Federal Election Commission approved the new group February 7. Its creation comes less than a month after Gardner was tapped in January as the second in command for a House Republican venture that raises money for vulnerable members.
“As vice-chairman for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Patriot program, Cory is committed to doing everything in his power to assure the Speaker’s gavel remains in Republican hands” said Katie Behnke, Gardner’s campaign finance director and managing partner of the Colorado based fundraising firm The Starboard Group.
A Gardner aide said the new organization was not the equivalent of an exploratory committee, the first organizational step that politicians mulling a new race take before they announce whether they will declare themselves a candidate.
The aide declined to comment on whether Gardner will challenge Senator Mark Udall (D-Co.) in 2014.
Yet the move suggests that the two-term incumbent is dipping his toe in the pool for a statewide race at some point. The 38-year old was a guest on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. He also re-introduced legislation in the House recently to expand the popular Coverdell Education Savings Account program.
Gardner has been considered the number-one Republican challenger to Udall. He was the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s top choice as recently as last month, according to a high-level GOP Senate aide.
NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring dismissed the assertion as “typical speculation and banter by Capitol Hill aides.”
If Gardner decided to run statewide, he would be unlikely to face a serious challenge from the right in a Republican primary. National Journal ranked him recently as the 10th most conservative member of the House of Representatives. He ran even with GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the 4th Congressional district he represented, which covered all of the rural, windswept eastern part of the state and a large chunk of Fort Collins.
Dick Wadhams, former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, has promoted a Gardner Senate bid in the media all year.
Informed about Gardner’s new PAC, Wadhams said Gardner “has been on a fast-track since he’s been elected (in 2010). He’s highly regarded among his peers, as his recent appearance on ‘Meet the Press’ showed, and he represents the future of the Republican Party.”
Wadhams added, “Cory would be a very serious challenger against Udall in 2012 or any other candidate down the line. I think Senator Udall is enjoying a false sense of security. His record has not been exposed. He’s been a very reliable vote for Barack Obama’s budget-busting spending initiatives.”
A Udall campaign spokesperson did not return two emails for comment.
Raising large amounts of money is a challenge for any non-self-financed candidate.
Gardner raised $2.3 million in the 2011-2012 election cycle. The amount was less than Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) raised in his successful re-election bid last year. Yet Gardner’s race was less in doubt than Coffman’s, as he maintained a consistent double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent, then-State Senate President Brandon Shaffer. Gardner defeated Shaffer 58.3 percent to 36.7.
A statewide bid from Gardner, a consistent backer of expanded energy development, would likely encounter opposition from the left-leaning environmental lobby. The Natural Resources Defense Council attacked Gardner last year for sponsoring legislation they thought slighted green energy.
Staying competitive financially with Udall or Sen. Michael Bennet was a problem for both of the previous Republican senatorial candidates. Udall outraised former Rep. Bob Schaffer $11.66 million to $7.38 million, while Bennet raised $11.5 million to Ken Buck’s $4.9 million.
Udall had $1.3 million cash on hand, according to a December 2012 FEC filing.