In Cory Gardner, a look at the GOP's happy future

Riding in the car — Gardner doesn’t have a campaign bus — Gardner recalled seeing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speak at a House Republican retreat a few years ago. “One of the comments he made there was that it is hard to hate up close,” Gardner told me. “I took that to heart.”

The idea is, if you work closely with people, pay attention to them, and be straight with them, it will be harder for most of them to work up a true loathing for you, the way they can with some politicians.

“My grandma had this saying,” Gardner, who is 40, continued. “She said, ‘Sometimes you just have to squeeze the merchandise.’ It means that people want you to wear well, they want to have a good feeling about you. And I think that makes a difference in this campaign.”

Another image Democrats have sought to create is that of the angry Republican. The label irritates some in the GOP, but not Gardner, because he believes there’s something to it.

“I think that’s a big problem for Republicans,” he told me. “There are a lot of people in this race who look at Mark Udall’s campaign and say he’s the Republican in this race, because he’s angry and dour and mean.”