It has been nearly 800 days since Republican Sen. Cory Gardner held an in-person town hall with his Colorado constituents, with no indication he will hold one anytime soon.
Gardner is a top target of Democrats hoping to gain control of the Senate in 2020, and he is facing reelection in a state that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and elected Democrats to every statewide position in 2018.
According to the Colorado Times Recorder, Gardner last held a town hall on Nov. 20, 2017, which was 791 days ago. A Monday New York Times report noted Gardner has no upcoming town halls listed on his Facebook page.
Gardner is avoiding his constituents despite facing a high-profile reelection in roughly 10 months. Gardner’s approval rating in the state is only 37 percent, with a slightly higher percentage of Coloradans disapproving of his job performance (40 percent), according to a recent Morning Consult poll. Gardner is regularly listed as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country.
Even a local television reporter mocked Gardner’s reclusiveness, chiding him for “hiding” from the press as Donald Trump’s impeachment trial looms.
“Coloradans deserve better than a senator who won’t hold town halls or answer basic questions.” David Pourshoushtari, spokesperson for the Colorado Democratic Party, said in an email. “Instead of being honest with his constituents, Senator Gardner has spent months hiding and won’t say whether he supports a fair trial that includes all of the evidence and firsthand witnesses or whether Trump’s conduct with Ukraine was appropriate.”
The Gardner campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At the moment, Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, but endangered incumbents including Gardner, Sens. Martha McSally (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), and Thom Tillis (NC) offer Democrats hope that voters will flip the Senate in 2020 like their House counterparts did in 2018.
Gardner’s lengthy absence has begun to frustrate Republicans in Colorado.
Herb Glasser, a 54-year-old public accountant, told the Times that he has been “unhappy” with Gardner for quite some time, but still plans on supporting him in 2020.
“We have no choice,” Glasser said, describing himself to the outlet as a “true conservative.”
Dick Wadhams, a veteran Colorado Republican operative, had similar complaints, lamenting Gardner’s team, which he said “keeps him locked up in a fortress.”
Progressives in the state have taken a different approach to Gardner’s perpetual absence.
The group Indivisible Front Range Resistance (IFFR) created its own “Cardboard Cory,” a lifesize cardboard cutout of the senator, for residents to ask questions at various events.
“Cardboard Cory” made his debut on Feb. 24, 2017, at Byers Middle School in Denver, IFFR leader Katie Farnan said during a phone interview. At that event, 1,500 residents crowded into a gymnasium to ask the cardboard cutout questions, since Gardner himself refused to hold a town hall.
Events continued long after that first appearance, thanks in part to the enthusiasm of groups like Progress Now Colorado, Farnan said. By August of 2017, “Cardboard Cory” had hosted roughly 30 events, until the flesh-and-blood senator finally announced four public town halls for the fall of that year. The final one was on Nov. 20, 2017, in Pueblo.
While the senator has avoided town halls since then, Farnan estimated “Cardboard Cory” had participated in “250 events, maybe even more” around the state. The cutout is so popular that the group has purchased about 11 of them, both to replace damaged ones and to share copies with like-minded groups around the state. “Cardboard Cory” even has his own Twitter account with more than 3,100 followers.
When asked if she anticipated Gardner participating in any more town halls before election day, Farnan was skeptical.
“I don’t think that’s his strategy,” she said, although she was baffled at why he would continue hiding.
“The dynamics have changed,” since Gardner won in 2014, she said, mentioning a shift in voter registration numbers. According to the Colorado Sun, the state had almost 24,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in 2014. At the end of 2019, registered Democrats overtook registered Republicans, outnumbering them by more than 67,000 voters.
In 2014, Gardner won by less than 50,000 votes.
“If he doesn’t come out and speak, I don’t see how he grows his base” and wins, Farnan said.
“How’s he going to get new voters?”
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore