Growing Impeachment Momentum Leaves Sen. Cory Gardner In A Pinch With Voters

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Sen. Cory Gardner visits Arvada, Aug. 13, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Sen. Cory Gardner visits Arvada, Aug. 13, 2019.

The impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump will be tricky business for the handful of Republican senators who face close re-election races in 2020. 

Among them is Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. 

Some conservative voters say they will listen carefully to what he says about the impeachment inquiry — and it could even determine how they vote. 

A recent poll by a Democratic-linked firm found that 54 percent of Coloradans support impeachment. That leaves Gardner in a delicate position. Defending the president could hurt him in the general election but keeping his distance risks driving away Republicans he needs to have a chance at re-election.

“I think he should support the president and be more open about that and more vocal, and so I’d like to hear from him whatever it is,” said Republican voter Wade Frary of Larkspur. Frary opposes the Democratic-led inquiry and plans to back Gardner, but said, “he’s kind of keeping his head down.” 

“I think it’s a shame. I don’t agree with what Donald Trump does on many occasions,” but Frary doesn’t think the situation with Ukraine rises to the level of impeachment. 

Other voters at a community gathering in Castle Rock agreed with some of Frary’s views.

“I'd like to hear something from [Gardner] backing [Trump]. I just feel that a lot of the politicians, they look out for themselves,” said Claire Lutz, a 70-year-old self-described fiscal conservative from Sedalia. She said she’s watching impeachment coverage every day and doesn’t believe Trump committed an impeachable offense. For her, the inquiry is a waste of money when Congress could be working together.

“I'm going to wait a lot on this impeachment thing and then I'm going to erase everybody that worked against President Trump,” she said.

Gardner joined most of his Senate Republican colleagues and signed onto a resolution to condemn the House impeachment process, though it never came to a floor vote. Beyond that, he hasn’t come out strongly on whether or not Trump did anything wrong.

In October, a testy clip of Gardner’s exchange with a Fox 31 TV reporter on the substance of impeachment went viral and racked up nearly 2.5 million views. A reporter for Bloomberg News, Sahil Kapur, retweeted the video calling it “remarkable” that Gardner “declined to say five times” whether it was OK for a foreign country to investigate a political rival. Trump liked Kapur’s tweet.

While the president may be pleased with Gardner’s response, some voters want him much more visible.

“I don't think I like how quiet he is. I think that surprised me,” said Stephanie Roskelley, a Republican voter from Castle Rock who backed a third party candidate for president over Trump in 2016. She supports the impeachment inquiry and wants to see how it unfolds.

“Financially, I feel like our economy is doing really well, but there's a lot of things,” she said of the president. “He's just an outrageous person. It's just hard to get past that piece of it.” 

“Usually, I align with the Republican party, but I think our family’s falling into more moderate, where we could pretty much sway either way.”  

The president lost Colorado in 2016 and in the following midterm elections, Democrats won every statewide office and flipped a congressional district from red to blue. That’s another sign that Gardner is in a challenging spot.

While Roskelley said her vote for Gardner hinges on how he and other lawmakers conduct themselves during the inquiry, for other voters it’s irrelevant. Castle Rock independent David Chavez said he was more bothered by the Mueller Report, the Access Hollywood tape and the payments Trump’s personal attorney made to porn star Stormy Daniels. He calls the latest investigation a “waste of time” because in his mind nothing will move the needle to turn the tide against Trump. 

“I was hopeful with the other things and then they never came to fruition,” he said. “I don't think this would at all either. I just think it's a process and once the process plays out, then, in the end, we'll probably have Trump in office for another five years.” 

Chavez's support is currently with Democratic presidential candidate and businessman Andrew Yang. He’s also going to vote to reelect Gardner because his office helped Chavez’ family sort out an immigration issue — a sure sign that all politics, as the adage goes, are local.

“That was wonderful that he took the time to do that.”

CPR News' D.C.-based reporter Caitlyn Kim contributed to this report.