John Hickenlooper and Cory Gardner

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, top, and incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner would provide an uncertain General Election matchup in November.

Counting out Cory Gardner is way too easy of a narrative for the times we live in. That's especially true if the storyteller would never vote for the Republican incumbent to begin with. 

A lot of things could go awry for the Democrats' victory party.

Let's begin with Super Tuesday. The presidential primary will say a lot more about Colorado than it says about who eventually winds up in the White House. Four years ago, back in the days of the Colorado caucus, Sen.Bernie Sanders beat the establishment favorite, Hillary Clinton.

Colorado has moved only farther to the left since then. In a vacuum, that fact would provide the ink for Gardner's political obituary.

Allow me to make a bold prediction based on polls, history and common sense: Donald Trump will not win Colorado this year. He lost it by 5% in 2016. He could lose it by 10 in November.

I’m betting that most of his campaign time and money will go to critical states in the Rust Belt and, gasp, Georgia. If Trump has to duke it out in Atlanta in October, he won’t be throwing haymakers in a losing cause in blue-state Colorado; candidates swing hardest in swing states.

Trump is expected to hold an event in the Springs alongside Gardner this week, perhaps a reward for the senator’s loyalty. Early on, candidates seed the fields rather than harvest the crops, however. Mike Bloomberg had two campaign stops in Alabama last week. He won't win Alabama, unless it's on Super Tuesday. 

On the Senate floor and in a phone call with me immediately after he voted to acquit, Gardner said Trump didn’t do anything worthy of undoing the 2016 election and delivering the 2020 vote on a silver platter to the Democrats.

I asked Gardner, a powerful member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whether it would be OK for him to ask a foreign country to investigate John Hickenlooper, the candidate presumed to be his November foe. He said Hickenlooper already is under investigation — by the state ethics commission, which is reviewing who paid for some of Hickenlooper's travel as governor.

Gardner told me Trump only cared about corruption in the Ukraine, the same way the previous administration had. Neither President Obama nor his vice president, Joe Biden, though, rooted out corruption by investigating Mitt Romney or his family dog in 2011.

The embattled incumbent said he wasn’t thinking about his political fortunes when he voted on acquittal. Sure, there was reporting in the Wall Street Journal that said Gardner and other vulnerable senators were sweating the effect of a long Senate trial on their reelection campaign. Translated, the more Americans heard, the more he might have to answer for on his vote.

“The problem with anonymous sources and tips is they get things wrong,” Gardner said.

He told me, effectively, he had heard enough in the testimony of 17 witnesses in the House sent over. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Chuck Schumer were the ones playing election-year politics, he said. 

“I worry not about politics but about the country, and how this impacts the people of these United States,” he vowed on the call.

Democrats are counting on taking back the seat Gardner took from Democrat Mark Udall six years ago to take back the majority in the Senate. If they don't, careers will be affected, and not just the names on the ballot.

Gardner might want to hold off on teeing up Hick just yet. We will soon find out if he's as blue as the state shows itself to be on Super Tuesday.

Hickenlooper, the moderate friend of fracking and win-win compromises, has to pick a lane that is headed in the direction of the party's voters. 

The Hick I used to know was always up for a rhetorical challenge, always glad to answer questions. That's not him anymore. Shielded by his own party from actual debates with more liberal Democrats, Hickenlooper is as good with his talking points as Gardner is with his.

Democrats won't know until after the June primary, I'm guessing, whether Hickenlooper can handle a bareknuckled political brawl, the kind he's never faced but that is surely coming.

Meanwhile, Andrew Romanoff is tweeting about climate refugees and a strong field of qualified women are looking to their party's voters for a little bit of parity.

Parties these days do themselves no favors shoehorning nominees onto the ballot. They only shovel in cynicism.

The election of Donald Trump to the White House and Sanders’ caucus win in Colorado in 2016 suggest voters are fed up with the profession of politics. They gravitate to bold, brash messages, even if the messenger is flawed. 

At a Jan. 26 forum put on by Longmont Latinx Voice, Hickenlooper clashed red-faced with environmental extremists in a hallway, providing video to demonstrate he's no mate of the progressive fringe.

If Sanders takes Super Tuesday in Colorado, the message is that this Senate race is still anyone’s game, with or without the former governor.

Independents and moderates might not be willing to veer that far to the left when they pick their senator, too. Colorado voters are a wishy-washy bunch.

In 2014, Gardner won a Senate seat by 2%, as Hickenlooper won a second term by 3%.

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