One Year Out, the TV Ad Blitz in Colorado's Senate Race Is Already Starting

A Democratic group is launching a new six-figure ad campaign criticizing Cory Gardner's health care record.
A Democratic group is launching a new six-figure ad campaign criticizing Cory Gardner's health care record. Rocky Mountain Values
Election Day 2020 is still more than a year away, but Colorado Democrats' efforts to defeat incumbent senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, are already well under way, as a new ad from liberal group Rocky Mountain Values that hit airwaves today, October 15, makes clear.

The ad, titled “Joseph,” stars Westminster resident Shelby Yanker and her son, who suffers from asthma. It criticizes Gardner for his 2017 vote for the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Republican-backed legislation that would have repealed many provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“When your child is struggling to breathe, that’s very terrifying,” Shelby says in the ad. “Senator Gardner told us that he would look after families like ours, but he went to Washington and listened to the health insurance and drug companies.”

Rocky Mountain Values, which as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit is not required to disclose its donors, launched last month with a mission to target Gardner, widely viewed as the most vulnerable Senate Republican in the 2020 election. The group’s messaging focuses on health care and environmental issues, and its first ad highlights both, which communications director Vanessa Harmoush says will resonate in communities across the Front Range, where pollution from oil and gas facilities and other industrial sources contribute to regional air-quality levels that rank among the worst in the country.

“There are a lot of families in Colorado who are dealing with this,” says Harmoush. “We’ve been seeing more people with asthma or having breathing issues because of the poor air quality. And we’re definitely not seeing Senator Gardner taking votes that are helping.”

The six-figure ad-buy from Rocky Mountain Values is the latest in a series of efforts to put pressure on Gardner as the 2020 Senate race heats up. Giffords PAC, a gun-control group founded by former representative Gabrielle Giffords, launched an ad campaign in August calling on Gardner to support a federal background-checks bill. Need to Impeach, a campaign primarily funded by liberal donor and long-shot presidential candidate Tom Steyer, is running ads demanding that Gardner “put country over party” and support the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

These early, expensive ad campaigns are yet another sign that Colorado's 2020 Senate race is set to shatter state spending records. Gardner's campaign earlier this month reported a third-quarter fundraising haul of nearly $2.5 million, while the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, former governor John Hickenlooper, raised $2.1 million following the launch of his Senate campaign in mid-August. By contrast, then-Senator Mark Udall raised just over $1.1 million in the third quarter of 2013, while his top opponent at the time — Representative Ken Buck, who later withdrew from the race to clear the way for Gardner — raised just $300,000.

Spending from outside groups like super PACs and "dark money" nonprofits like Rocky Mountain Values, which are not subject to federal campaign contribution limits, will also play a critical role. Gardner will benefit from the support of conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch family and has pledged to support Gardner in his re-election fight, and from a network of joint fundraising committees set up by Republican politicians around the country.

Gardner, who reports having nearly $6.5 million cash on hand as he awaits for a challenger to emerge from the Democratic primary, has not yet launched any TV ads, but his campaign has consistently purchased digital advertising on Facebook and Google throughout 2019, according to databases maintained by the platforms.
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff