It's almost become a tradition in Colorado for the opposing party to make hay when a politician — usually a U.S. senator facing re-election — appears to be ducking the chance to rub elbows at home with an unpopular president, even though there's usually a good reason the absent lawmaker has to be elsewhere.
On Tuesday, it was U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet's turn to feel the lash of his foes when he decided to attend to Senate business in Washington rather than jet back to Colorado to accompany fellow Democrat Joe Biden on a presidential visit to a renewable energy lab in Arvada.
"Rising gas prices, skyrocketing inflation, trillions in unnecessary spending, and abandoning Americans and allies in Afghanistan — that is the real record of the Biden-Harris Administration," thundered State GOP chair Kristi Burton Brown in a press release. "It's no wonder why Sen. Bennet is ditching today's event and hiding from President Biden."
No matter that Bennet probably can check in with Biden whenever he feels the need back in D.C., or that the Senate had a procedural vote scheduled Tuesday afternoon on a Denver nominee to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bennet wasn't the only top elected Democrat from Colorado with pressing obligations that prevented joining Biden at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Flatirons Campus, where the president examined wind turbines and talked about the role of clean energy in efforts to curtail the climate crisis.
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, was occupied with committee work considering amendments to the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill moving its way through the House, and Democratic U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper had the same Senate duties as his colleague.
But it was Bennet — facing voters next year in a bid for a third term — who drew a line from Republicans.
Following in the steps of her forebears from both parties, Burton Brown was having none of it.
"Colorado voters won't forget that Bennet and the Colorado Democrats have fully embraced all of these failed and costly policies," she said.
A spokesperson for Bennet's re-election campaign painted a different picture:
“After traveling over 1,800 miles across the state during August recess, Sen. Bennet will be in Washington to do the job Colorado voters elected him to do, including voting for Veronica Rossman from Colorado to serve as the circuit judge for the 10th Circuit and negotiating a budget proposal that supports the extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit and bold action on climate change."
Added the Bennet campaign: "Michael is delighted President Biden is visiting Colorado and NREL to talk about how the Build Back Better agenda will invest in a clean energy economy and create good-paying jobs.”
Hickenlooper's Republican predecessor, former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, faced nearly identical criticism two years ago when he hopped a plane for the nation's capital at about the same time then-Vice President Mike Pence was landing in Colorado for a Gardner fundraiser.
Gardner skipped the Pence visit to vote aye on Mark Esper's nomination as defense secretary — the former lobbyist for defense contractors was confirmed 90-8 — but Burton Brown's Democratic counterpart wasn't ready to issue an excused absence from the state.
“Given Trump’s deep unpopularity in Colorado, it should come as no surprise that vulnerable Sen. Cory Gardner is avoiding a public event with Trump’s VP," said Colorado Democratic Party chair Morgan Carroll. "But hiding from a photo-op can’t erase Gardner’s record of staunch support of Trump’s divisive agenda, nor will it stop Coloradans from rejecting both Gardner and Trump in 2020.”
Gardner, it turned out, embraced Trump on stage seven months later at a Colorado Springs rally, before Colorado voters resoundingly rejected both of them in last year's election.
Democrat Mark Udall, Gardner's predecessor and another U.S. senator ultimately rejected by Colorado voters, got the same treatment in 2014 when he returned to Washington for a Senate vote the same day then-president Barack Obama landed in Denver to deliver a speech and raise some money for Udall's campaign.
“Actions speak louder than words," the National Republican Senatorial Committee scolded. "It’s clear that the president is beyond toxic, and Mark Udall’s campaign is running scared.”
Biden appears to be more popular with Colorado voters at this point than Trump or Obama were when the senators took off rather than join them on the stump. But that didn't stop a veteran Republican operative from linking Bennet's decision on Tuesday to a new Civiqs poll that showed Biden underwater 7 points with Colorado voters, with a net 27-point disapproval rating from the state's all-important unaffiliated voters.
"Fighting for Biden's $3.5 trillion socialist spending spree in Washington isn't a great way for Bennet to excuse his absence today," said Kyle Kohli, executive director of Compass Colorado and a former communications director for the state GOP. "Coloradans are seeing prices raise across the board, but trillions in reckless federal spending will only make life harder for working people."
It might be a more persuasive argument if Bennet were distancing himself from the Biden administration's domestic spending proposals, but he is instead embracing them, with special attention to the child tax credit expansion he sponsored.
"The expanded #ChildTaxCredit is the most transformative policy we've seen out of Washington in generations," Bennet tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "We must ensure no eligible family misses out on this benefit."
The Democrats, for their part, have plenty of recent polling of their own showing that Biden's proposals remain popular with Colorado voters — though the only poll that matters, as the saying goes, won't be tallied for another 14 months.