Cory Gardner CFRW meeting

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., speaks with Republicans attending a GOP organization's meeting on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, at a restaurant in Greenwood Village.

Now we find out just how good a politician Cory Gardner really is.

But to hear him tell it, on the night his Democratic opponent was being seated, we're going to find out who the real John Hickenlooper is.

"Gov. John Hickenlooper wouldn't recognize Senate candidate John Hickenlooper," Gardner told Colorado Politics, as the former governor raced out to a commanding lead early against former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

He said he wasn't surprised by Hickenlooper's strong showing, given the money and support his candidacy has gotten from the national political leaders, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. He said, "that's nothing to peacock around the state of Colorado about."

Gardner, too, can expect millions in outside support from his party and dark money groups for a seat that could determine which party controls the Senate and the keys to power, a critical asset whether Donald Trump remains in the White House or not.

He won't wander into a conversation about the president, or stay there long if you try to hold him there.

"All I can do is talk about what I do and how we continue to get results for the state of Colorado," he said, pressed on the president's conduct and scandals.

He said Romanoff didn't run a tactical campaign that exposed Hickenlooper's weaknesses, but instead left that defining the governor to others.

"Romanoff had to run a campaign," Gardner said. "He's known for doing that, and that's what he did again."

Romanoff lost in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 2010 against Michael Bennet and against incumbent Republican Mike Coffman in the Sixth Congressional District in 2014.

"We're going to talk about what I've done for Colorado, and what I'll continue to do for Colorado for jobs and opportunities for Colorado," he said, before rattling off a list from his Great American Outdoors Act to support public lands to moving the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Colorado and the Space Command to Colorado Springs. "We're going to talk about what it takes to get the economy back on track and getting people back to work." 

Hickenlooper can expect a bruising if a campaign memo obtained by Colorado Politics on Tuesday afternoon is any indication.

Democrats have had their own cadre of dark money groups hammering away at Gardner for months, just as Republican groups have lined up against Hickenlooper before he was the nominee.

Now the incumbent steps into the fray.

Gardner told Colorado Politics he would define Hickenlooper's call for universal health care as socialized medicine, and the Republican senator opposes any system that puts the government in charge of insurance or personal medical decisions, he said.

Gardner voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, a bid that failed because the late Sen. John McCain voted against the Republican repeal bill. He pointed out that Hickenlooper was the lead proponent of Amendment 66, the ballot question for $950 million in tax hikes for education that failed in 2013.

But he said Hickenlooper, too, has sought to replace Obamacare, working with Republican Gov. John Kasich on a proposed bipartisan plan to present to Congress in 2018, which U.S. News and World Report characterized as a "bromance."

"I want to empower Coloradans with more choices, more options, more competition to create high-risk pools that will lower the cost of insurance," Gardner said, sounding a lot like Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.

Gardner alleged that in the "bromance" days, "I remember John Hickenlooper calling me up saying he liked the idea. As Gov. John Hickenlooper he used to call me a lot and say 'thank you for the work you're doing on health care. Like said, candidate John Hickenlooper doesn't know Gov. John Hickenlooper."

Gardner will argue that Hickenlooper's support for transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable sources is a bid to fire 250,000 people whose jobs depend on Colorado's oil and gas industry.

Gardner thinks Hickenlooper followed the "radical left" of his party to secure the nomination, instead of looking at Coloradans have voted in the recent past on issues of taxation and energy.

"He can pander to the socialists and the extreme left all he wants," Gardner said. "I'm going to be for Colorado."

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