To Republicans like Witwer and Ryan Call, the moderate Colorado GOP chairman, Gardner is a godsend: a principled conservative who doesn’t come across as an impeachment-obsessed crank. Colorado Republicans are still dysfunctional—several moderates were defeated by fringe candidates in legislative primaries this year—but they’ve unified to a remarkable degree around Gardner, perhaps as much out of desperation as anything else. On the other hand, if he can’t win, many fear the state may be lost to the GOP for good…

But now it’s Udall who’s been cast in the old Republican role: angry and obsessed with social issues, a partisan tied to an unpopular president. Gardner calls him a “social-issues warrior” who “has nothing else to talk about.” In a clever move, after coming out against personhood, Gardner came out in favor of making birth-control pills available over the counter. Opponents say this would make them less accessible to low-income women, but it’s a position that makes it hard for Democrats to assert that he’s against contraception—or that he doesn’t have a positive agenda. Other Republican candidates have since copied the position.

After Gardner finished speaking in Boulder, a protest broke out outside. Half a dozen Hispanic activists waved signs and chanted, “He’s trying to take my DACA back! Gardner is wack!” Conveniently, one of the Boulder Republicans was prepared for just such an occasion. He went to his truck and brought out his own pre-made sign reading, “DETECT – DETAIN – DEPORT.” One of Gardner’s staffers confided to an onlooker, “I don’t know why they’re protesting. Cory’s one of the Republicans who supports what they want.” Gardner, meanwhile, stayed inside, shaking hands and chatting. When he signs a bumper sticker, he jokes, “I heard you get 5 percent more fuel efficiency when you put this on!”