Oh my: Denver Post endorses Republican Cory Gardner over Mark Udall in Colorado Senate race

I would have used a different fluid than “sputum,” but otherwise bingo.

The rapidly congealing conventional wisdom on Twitter is spot on in this case: This endorsement is important not because Coloradans are necessarily going to vote the way the Post tells them but because Udall’s spent months and many millions in trying to frame Gardner as some sort of anti-woman crank. The endorsement of the state’s biggest paper shatters that frame; it’s a benediction of legitimacy, especially given public perceptions that newspapers lean left. If the Post is willing to choose the Republican challenger over a Democratic incumbent, that must be one mighty mainstream, credible Republican.

And it’s not just the endorsement itself that’s noteworthy, it’s the rationale. Is this Waterloo in the “war on women”?

Udall is a fine man with good intentions, and on some issues our views are closer to his than to Gardner’s. But he is not perceived as a leader in Washington and, with rare exceptions such as wind energy and intelligence gathering, he is not at the center of the issues that count — as his Democratic colleague, Sen. Michael Bennet, always seems to be.

Rather than run on his record, Udall’s campaign has devoted a shocking amount of energy and money trying to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control despite the congressman’s call for over-the-counter sales of contraceptives. Udall is trying to frighten voters rather than inspire them with a hopeful vision. His obnoxious one-issue campaign is an insult to those he seeks to convince

If Gardner had been a cultural warrior throughout his career, we would hesitate to support him, because we strongly disagree with him on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. But in fact he has emphasized economic and energy issues (and was, for example, an early supporter among Republicans of renewable energy).

How’d Gardner succeed in parrying the “war on women” attacks where so many other Republicans have failed? Lots of reasons — solid candidate to start with, a well-timed embrace of OTC contraception, and an emphasis on economic issues as the Post notes. But Dave Weigel flags another explanation, namely, that Gardner went on offense against Udall on reproductive issues. Udall tried to frame him as anti-woman so Gardner, with help from a debate moderator who did his job conscientiously, reciprocated by framing Udall as a stone-cold abortion fanatic. Which, whether due to simple expedience or belief, is exactly what he is.

Gardner’s up slightly more than a point in the RCP average but most of the last few polls have trended his way. We’ll see next week if this Post endorsement moved the needle any.