The U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw its formal support behind U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner on Wednesday — putting its mouth where its money has been, following the business advocacy organization's heavy spending already this cycle to back the Colorado Republican's re-election bid.
The endorsement comes as no surprise. The chamber has already spent $500,000 this cycle supporting Gardner, owner of a 92% lifetime rating from the Chamber, including last month's six-figure buy for a TV ad that praised Gardner's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In difficult times, we are reminded of the importance of having leaders that understand the genius of the American system of government and free enterprise and who are willing to tackle the hard problems that confront our nation,” said U.S. Chamber CEO Thomas J. Donohue, in a statement.
“As our country faces many challenges and is collectively working to not just reopen our economy, but return to growth and expanded opportunities for all Americans, we need leaders like Senator Cory Gardner. He has a proven track record of leading responsibly and standing up for good policies. The U.S. Chamber is proud to endorse Cory and looks forward to partnering with him in the future.”
Gardner is facing Democratic challenger John Hickenlooper, founder of a brewpub and restaurant empire and the former two-term governor who previously won praise from the Chamber for his work to make Colorado "the most pro-business state, with the highest environmental and ethical standards."
Christopher Guith, senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber's Global Energy Institute, elaborated on the chamber's endorsement during a Wednesday videoconference with Gardner and local chamber leaders.
"The United States Chamber of Commerce is purposeful in their efforts to support those who will stand with pro-growth policies and work across the aisle," he said, calling Gardner the rare lawmaker "willing to tackle the hard problems."
"He has continually demonstrated the bipartisan leadership that Coloradans expect of their caucus," Guith said, particularly in the energy and environmental realms.
He applauded Gardner's leadership steering the Great American Outdoors Act to Senate passage last month with 73 votes in favor, a feat Guith called a "remarkable achievement in an election year."
Touting his bipartisan effectiveness — by one measure, he's the third-most bipartisan member of the Senate, and he's had more bills signed into law than the rest of the Colorado delegation combined — Gardner said he's scored victories on each element of the "four corners plan" he ran on in 2014, citing achievements on the economy, in energy, education, and the environment.
"It's amazing what you can do when you decide this country is more than just parties, it's more than just red and blue — it's red, white and blue," Gardner said. "When you believe in Colorado, anything is possible. It's not because you're a Democrat, it's not because you're a Republican, it's because you're for Colorado."
The chamber, for its part, has only endorsed Republican senators this cycle and plans to help Republicans keep control of the Senate after the November election. Democrats need to net four seats to take the gavel — or three seats, if the party wins the White House — and the Colorado race is expected to be among the most hotly contested and expensive races in the country this fall.
Gardner said during the videoconference with chamber leaders that he wants the Senate to get to work on the next round of legislation to help Americans get through the pandemic and position the country to rebound once its over.
"I believe there will be a phase four — there must be a phase four," Gardner said, adding that he would like to see the Paycheck Protection Program not only extended through the end of the year but expanded to allow businesses that have already benefited from the program to apply for additional money, and to make it available to applicants who weren't able to participate during previous rounds.
In addition, Gardner said, Congress needs to consider what he called "bigger-picture, light at the end of the tunnel ideas," like an infrastructure program to rebuild the nation's roads and bridges, as well as billions that could fund broadband expansion without costing taxpayers a dime.
"Let's make it big, let's make it bold," he said. "Until we can have a vaccine, we have to make sure that we are there for our employees and our employers."
Gardner said the only way the country can afford the $3 trillion price tag for relief legislation already passed is by making sure the economy is growing as strongly after the pandemic as it was going into it.