Republican Rep. Cory Gardner has unseated Colorado Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, another major victory for the GOP in their quest to take control of the Senate.
Gardner’s entrance into the race gave the GOP a top-tier candidate in a state that has broken for Democrats in recent years. President Barack Obama won Colorado by five points in 2012, but support for him has waned in the swing state. Gardner repeatedly said Udall voted with the president 99 percent of the time; Udall responded by branding Gardner as one of the most partisan members of Congress.
Udall focused his campaign on painting Gardner as an extremist -- especially on women’s issues like contraception and abortion rights. But Gardner moved to the center on some of the most contentious social issues in an effort to separate himself from unpopular House Republicans.
Udall was elected to the Senate six years ago with support from 50% of men and 56% of women. But a centerpiece of his re-election campaign was designed to woo women voters, by highlighting Gardner’s views on reproductive rights, a tactic that was criticized as overly-focused on a single issue. This time around, Udall took 52% of women’s vote but just 40% of men, according to the NBC News exit poll.
Gardner’s victory tonight was built on strong support among traditionally more conservative groups, including 82% of white evangelicals, 59% of white men, and 56% of voters age 65 and older. In this state with a strong independent streak, Gardner captured half – 50% -- of those who consider themselves political independents. This is a significant shift from 2008 when Udall won 55% of independents. Another shift was among Latino voters -- Udall won 63% of the Latino vote in 2008, but only about half of that group’s vote today.
National issues were also on Coloradans’ minds tonight. A 57% majority of voters told the NBC exit poll that party control of the U.S. Senate was a very important consideration in their vote. And among this group, Gardner captured 54% to Udall’s 44%.
-- Andrew Rafferty