Colorado Votes: Democrat Shaffer Challenges Congressman Gardner in CD 4

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Cory Gardner at a recent campaign event. [Photo: KUNC/Nathan Heffel]

[This story was produced and reported by Nathan Heffel, KUNC.]

This week as part of our Colorado Votes election coverage, we’re looking at each of our state’s Congressional races. We start with the vast Fourth district. Republican Cory Gardner won the seat in 2010, but redistricting has changed things, most notably, completely excluding Larimer County from the district.

Here’s a transcript of a report from KUNC’s Nathan Heffel.

Reporter Nathan Heffel: Skirting the eastern plains, much of the 4th district’s economy is rooted in agriculture. But, oil and gas development has boomed lately, because of the lucrative Niobrara Shale formation, and an emerging wind energy sector is also taking hold on the plains. Congressman Cory Gardner touched on that diversity during a recent campaign barbeque in Greeley. But he says the economic policies affecting each of the district’s 22 counties are largely the same.

Cory Gardner: Well you still have the bulk of the population living in Northern Colorado between Longmont and Weld County … and then you have the Douglas County parts, and it’s still, the economy is not a different economy for Douglas County as it is Elbert County.

Reporter: Elbert and Douglas County are among the newest additions to the district after boundary lines were redrawn. With so many new constituents, both Cory Gardner and his Democratic opponent Brandon Shaffer face a similar challenge going into November – name recognition.

Becca Casarez : Uhh, I have to be honest with you, I have no idea.

Becca Casarez owns a country home and décor store on Main Street in downtown Parker in Douglas County. An undecided Democrat, Casarez says figuring out who the congressional candidates are is the least of her worries.

Casarez: For me I’m holding on with a thread, so I take it day by day. You know we, of course want to see changes. But I don’t really know really at this point what the right answer is because I think it’s really a roll of the dice.

Reporter: It’s a gamble that state Senate President Brandon Shaffer is hoping to capitalize on as he crisscrosses the district.

Brandon Shaffer: You know, we’re knocking on a lot of doors. What’s fun about this campaign is it’s really a true grass roots campaign, having conversations with people, you know –house to house to house, and really connecting with the electorate of the 4th Congressional District.

Reporter: During a stop at Aims Community College in Greeley, Shaffer says the people he’s spoken to are upset with the status quo.

Shaffer: I think the core issue that is really bothering people is the influence of special interest money, and the influence they have on Washington DC.

Reporter: Shaffer has attacked Gardner on the campaign trail and in recent TV ads as someone who’s already tied to special interest lobbyists, even after a single term in office.

TV Ad: Gardner appeared to offer special interests lots of face time …

Reporter: But the 4th district is still heavily conservative, and its new boundaries give Cory Gardner the advantage when it comes to the number of registered Republicans. Gardner says he’s not counting on party affiliation to win re-election, with more than 100,000 independent voters on the books.

Gardner: It’s the same thing we saw when we were running against Betsy Markey - that people didn’t know who I was, because this was her district and I was the challenger. And so we’re doing the same thing we did then. It’s just methodical hard working every day, workhorse mentality, to get into Parker, Castle Rock, Douglas County, to introduce myself to voters.

Reporter: Gardner also has the advantage when it comes to fundraising, with just over $1 million on hand. Shaffer has a fourth of that. But, unlike his opponent, Gardner has done little with his campaign website and has yet to run any TV ads. This might be why executive chef Chef Alec Erickson, co-owner of Elevation 5900 in Parker, is still undecided. He moved to Parker earlier this year and says he doesn’t know either of the candidates. And he’s exactly the type of voter that both Cory Gardner and Brandon Shaffer are trying to win over.

Alec Erickson: “This election, I’m going to do a little more research, especially this year since I haven’t really done much.

Reporter: Two other candidates are also vying to represent the 4th Congressional District. Doug Aden is running on the American Constitution Party ticket. Josh Gilliland is the Libertarian candidate.