DENVER — Heading into just his second term after an easy reelection effort in his safe GOP seat, Congressman Cory Gardner is arguably the new standard-bearer for a bruised and demoralized Colorado Republican Party that hasn’t won a major statewide race in a decade.
Widely viewed as an up-and-comer within the House Republican caucus in Washington, Gardner is charismatic, close to GOP leadership including Majority Leader Eric Cantor and, after Tuesday night’s setbacks, clear-eyed about the challenges his party faces, nationally and in Colorado.
In an interview with FOX31 Denver Wednesday morning, Gardner talked about the election results and what his party can and should learn from the message voters sent.
FOX31: You took the stage to speak at the Republican Election Night party just after the networks had called the presidential race for Barack Obama. How disappointed was the crowd last night?
Gardner: “A lot of people put in countless hours, away from their families, to bring their candidate across the finish line. And we weren’t successful at the presidential level last night. But we have an obligation to move beyond this, to come together as a nation, as a state, and to address the challenges we face.”
FOX31: What are those issues where you think Republicans can work with Democrats to actually produce something other than a stalemate?
Gardner: “I think there’s a couple of big issues that need to be focused on. Beyond the fiscal cliff, addressing the immediate concern of the ’01 and ’03 tax rates and state tax issues; and beyond that, this country really does need comprehensive tax reform to create a flatter, fairer system for the country. The president has talked about lowering the corporate tax rates. We’re the highest in the world when it comes to corporate taxes. Tax reform is going to be a central focus of the House Republicans and I think it can be a focus for the Senate and the White House.
“Beyond that, I think one of the issues that may surprise people that we have an opportunity to focus on is immigration reform, what we’re going to do to fix a broken immigration reform.”
FOX31: The president has hinted that will be a focus next year, and that he thinks Republicans will be willing to work on the issue because the election will demonstrate a need for the GOP to focus anew on appealing to Latinos. Is that imperative for your party?
Gardner: “Republicans have always talked about having a big tent, but it doesn’t do any good if the tent doesn’t have any chairs in it. So making sure that we’re being more inclusive — reaching out to more people about our message of opportunity. It’s making sure we’re not just preaching our same message to the same people at the same Republican breakfast or lunch club, but getting out to college campuses, to the larger community and making sure we are putting the chairs inside the tent.
FOX31: How can Republicans be more convincing with Latinos? Or, for that matter, with women?
Gardner: “I think someone who is a leader can recognize that sometimes you’re not always the best face of your message. So how do we find that best face for our message? It may not be the person who wants it to be them. Finding that person is key, whether it’s Marco Rubio or a Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. Bringing in Latinos to the forefront, bringing women in — we have both in our party, but finding that best messenger is absolutely critical.”
FOX31: What can Republicans learn from the president’s campaign strategy, from an approach termed as “micro-targeting”, where there are multiple messages simultaneously aimed at different constituencies?
Gardner: “The president ran a very divisive campaign. The president did put people into silos. As a nation, I don’t think that’s healthy long-term. But Republicans have to recognize that we do have separate and distinct electoral bodies within this country and we’ve got figure out ways to address them and figure out who is the right messenger. This isn’t about giving up on principle; but it is about making sure we’re growing and not shrinking.”
FOX31: In Colorado, we’re now looking at two big races in 2014 for governor and the U.S. Senate. Who runs against John Hickenlooper and Mark Udall? Do Republicans have candidates right now who can make those races competitive?
Gardner: “I do think we have credible candidates on many levels; whether it’s the governor’s race, the senate race, even state legislative races, our candidates are there. What needs to be done over the next several months is to show Coloradans that Republicans have the ability to govern and govern responsibly but still put forward the ideas that we’re known for. But that means you’ve got to grow the base. So instead of worrying about who’s going to run in 2014, we’ve got to get back to basics.”