Gardner poses a stiff challenge for Udall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall never had intimidating poll numbers this cycle, but uncertainty about the GOP primary raised questions about the seriousness of the Republican threat to him. But all that changed when Republican Rep. Cory Gardner decided to run for the Senate in Colorado.
His decision instantly gave Republicans a top-tier candidate in the race and quickly forced three other GOP hopefuls out of the contest. Gardner and Republicans now have a legitimate shot in the Centennial State this fall.
Udall led Gardner 45 percent to 44 percent in a March 8-9 automated survey of 689 likely voters by Harper Polling for the GOP-friendly American Action Network, which was released to CQ Roll Call.
The survey also showed Udall with a 39 percent favorable/43 unfavorable ratings compared to 28 percent favorable/28 percent unfavorable for Gardner. Thirty-seven percent said that the senator deserved re-election, while 50 percent said it was time to “give someone else a chance.”
On the generic ballot, a Republican candidate led a Democratic candidate 47 percent to 42 percent. And President Barack Obama’s personal rating stood at 43 percent favorable/54 percent unfavorable. His job approval rating was not asked.
The Harper survey is consistent with other public polling, which has shown Udall in the low to mid-40s on the initial ballot test against candidates of varying quality.
An automated Rasmussen Reports poll, conducted March 5-6, showed Udall with a 42 percent to 41 percent advantage over the congressman. A Feb. 17-20 survey by Hickman Analytics, a Democratic firm, had Udall with a 46 percent to 42 percent edge over Ken Buck, the 2010 Senate nominee who was running again this year until he switched to run for Gardner’s open 4th District seat.
And a Jan. 29-Feb. 2 poll by Quinnipiac University (conducted before Gardner’s decision) had Udall leading state Sen. Owen Hill, 44 percent to 39 percent. Hill announced on Monday that he was ending his campaign.
Even though Udall showed some softness in his polling numbers in recent months, we maintained our Safe Democrat rating of the race because it seemed unlikely that Buck or any of the other Republicans could put together the campaign necessary to defeat the incumbent.
When Gardner jumped into the race, we immediately changed our Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating of the race to Democrat Favored. Now, we’re changing our rating to Leans Democrat, placing it firmly on the playing field of competitive races that could decide control of the Senate.
The latest polling in Colorado and the recent special election in Florida’s 13th District could be opening a window into the GOP messaging for the rest of the cycle.
In the Harper survey, respondents had a 47 percent favorable/24 percent unfavorable rating of the Medicare Advantage program and just a 37 percent favorable/55 percent unfavorable rating for “the new healthcare law known as Obamacare.”
That means that we are likely to see more ads, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad in Florida that attacked Democrat Alex Sink for supporting Medicare cuts through her support of the Affordable Care Act.