WASHINGTON – State Sen. Owen Hill dropped out of the U.S. Senate race Monday night all but assuring U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner would be the Republican challenger to take on incumbent Mark Udall.
But in a statement issued Tuesday Hill said he would withhold his endorsement from any GOP contender, contradicting earlier reports suggesting that Gardner was the acknowledged nominee and had his full support.
“I place great faith in our democratic process and want to honor the people’s ability to select their own leaders. Therefore, my full support will be behind the party’s nominee chosen at the State Assembly in April,” Hill said.
“While I expect that Congressman Gardner will be the nominee, state Senator Randy Baumgardner is a friend and colleague in the Senate and I will wait to endorse until Randy decides what he will do,” Hill said.
Republican Mark Aspiri, a Glenwood Springs businessman, is also still in the race.
Gardner’s last-minute entrance into the campaign in late February created a domino effect among the leading Republican contenders: Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck announced he would drop out of the Senate race and instead seek Gardner’s vacated congressional seat; state Rep. Amy Stephens also dropped out of the race and endorsed Gardner.
Hill vowed to remain in the race and suggested that Gardner had cut a “back-room deal” with Buck. However, several Republicans are running to claim the 4th Congressional District seat including Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, state Sen. Scott Renfoe and Larimer County resident Steve Laffey.
Hill announced his decision to withdraw from the Senate race in an email to his supporters, Colorado Peak Politics reported.
“He noted that U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner had the best chance of beating U.S. Senator Mark Udall and that he ‘pray[s] that he does,’” Peak Politics said.
Hill said in Tuesday’s Colorado Springs Gazette that “With all the support Cory has, we need a united front. He has the ability to leverage a national network to beat Mark Udall.”
Meanwhile, Roll Call reported that Hill’s decision solidifies the chances for Colorado Republicans to snatch a Senate seat from the Democratic Party.
“Republicans now have a legitimate shot in the Centennial State this fall,” said Stu Rothenberg’s Rothenblog.
Despite Gardner’s late entrance into the race, polls show the Republican running neck-and-neck with Udall and well within the margin of error for winning.
Harper Polling last week reported that Udall lead Gardner 45 percent to 44 percent in an automated survey of nearly 700 voters, with Udall’s unfavorability ratings sagging to 43 percent versus a 39 percent approval.
A Rasmussen Reports poll found that 42 percent of Colorado voters surveyed favored Udall while 41 percent supported Gardner.
“When Gardner jumped into the race, we immediately changed our Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating of the race to Democrat favored. Now, we’re changing our rating to leans Democrat, placing it firmly on the playing field of competitive races that could decide control of the Senate,” the Rothenblog said.