That could mean one of two things: Either the “war on women” is starting to lose its zing, or Gardner is one of those candidates who is impervious to the onslaught.
Neither explanation is particularly good news for Colorado Democrats, who have relied for four years on the “war on women” as their can’t-miss strategy for defeating Republicans.
“If this polling is correct, it shows that Cory is probably going to win this election, because for three months, Udall and his allies have been pummeling Cory Gardner as somebody who hates women, who wants to invade their bedroom and take away their contraception—it’s been relentless,” said Republican strategist Dick Wadhams.
The Senate Majority PAC has spent at least $2 million this year on television ads attacking Gardner, including a spot that began airing in May implying Gardner supports putting women in jail, and another launched July 15 saying he wants to “redefine rape.”
“If they have pummeled him for three months, and yet Cory is still in a deadlock or even has a slight lead—what do they do now? Because every other issue plays into Cory’s hands,” said Wadhams. “Obama’s unpopularity, the failure of Obamacare, the fracking issue, gun control–there’s nothing left for Udall to run on. That’s the significance of the poll.”
The Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found Gardner ahead by 44 to 42 percentage points. That’s within the margin of error, but the poll also marked the first time Gardner has led since the institute began polling on the 2014 Senate race.
The poll also found only 40 percent of voters surveyed say Udall deserves reelection, while 49 percent say he doesn’t. His job-approval rating also hit an all-time low at 42 percent, compared with 46 percent disapproval.
Gardner has undercut the Democrats’ strategy by changing his position on personhood, which he said in March he no longer supports. He has also called for allowing women to buy birth-control pills over-the-counter instead of requiring a prescription.
The Udall camp has mocked Gardner for his “political metamorphosis,” but it’s also possible Democrats have overplayed the “war on women” card, at least in Colorado. The tactic went national after Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet used it to defeat Republican Ken Buck in 2010.
Krista Kafer, spokeswoman for the conservative Colorado Women’s Alliance, said women grow weary of being depicted in ads as single-issue voters concerned only with obtaining abortions and free birth control.
“[W]hat these special interest groups don’t understand is that women are not worried about just one issue, like abortion,” said Kafer in an email. “Our research shows women are more worried about paying their bills and holding onto their jobs. One has to wonder if Udall had to pay for deceitful ads to distract us from his poor record on these important issues.”
She said the “war on women” message has also been diluted by Udall’s support for Obamacare, which resulted in nearly 340,000 Coloradans losing their insurance coverage.
“When he voted for Obamacare, Udall made health care harder for working people to afford,” said Kafer.
Democrats are still convinced the “war on women” is a winner for them. The ads haven’t abated, and Udall’s social-media sites continue to hammer Gardner on personhood, abortion and birth control, along with the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision.
“Udall’s team clearly believes he is endangered and must use the best items from the 2010 campaign, even if they are among the most obvious and ubiquitous tools in the Democratic playbook,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli in a Wednesday blog post.
If the attacks aren’t sticking, it may also be because it’s hard to imagine the sunny Gardner as anything other than a good guy, said Wadhams.
”The other thing is Cory’s personality,” said Wadhams. “He’s so people-oriented, and I think voters pick up on that. I just don’t think they believe it. I think they look at him and say, ‘You know, all that anti-women stuff they’re throwing at him—it doesn’t jibe. It just doesn’t make sense.’”