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As State Becomes More Moderate, CO GOP Candidates Flip-Flop on Wedge Issues

An insightful story published yesterday evening at the Wall Street Journal takes a look at an emergant theme in the bigger federal races in Colorado this election year – a desperate attempt by veteran Republican politicians to jettison their longstanding "anti-woman" baggage:

Wary of being on the losing side of the gender gap, Republican candidates are working to repel Democratic efforts to portray GOP policy on abortion, equal-pay laws and other matters as harmful to women.

In Colorado, Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman withdrew their support last month for "personhood" proposals that could limit access to birth control. In Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell hosted his first "women's symposium" last month…

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said Republicans are responding with mixed success to Democratic attacks that they are out of touch with women. She added, "Still, Republicans are doing a much better job by calling out Democrats for trying to divert attention from their chief liability, Obamacare."

…Democrats have criticized Messrs. Gardner and Coffman for backing statewide initiatives in 2010 and 2012 that would have treated a fetus like a person, outlawing most abortions and possibly some forms of birth control. Asked about the changes in position, staffers for the lawmakers said they recognized that voters had twice rejected "personhood" referenda. Mr. Gardner, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, called the possible limits on birth control "not right."

Ever since Rep. Cory Gardner made the obviously calculated decision to abandon his prior public support for the "personhood" abortion ban initiatives – in a late Friday afternoon press release, unsuccessfully hoping to minimize press coverage – there has been a lot of debate about what the best strategy is for Gardner and fellow GOP Rep. Mike Coffman in extricating themselves from their records of very consistent support for banning abortion, even in cases where most voters would never stay with them, such as for rape and incest victims.

But how is that even possible?

Gardner and Coffman have a big problem claiming legitimate "evolution" on these issues. In Coffman's case, redistricting has transformed his formerly ultra-safe Republican seat into one of the most competitive districts in America. As for Gardner, his longstanding proud support for "personhood" and other total abortion bans was perfectly acceptable in his safe Republican seat. But as a candidate for U.S. Senate, his support for "personhood" is lethal.

Getting past the public excuses for Gardner and Coffman's flip-flops, it becomes objectively clear that they switched positions to save their political hides. In Coffman's case, the length of his "evolution" has been protracted by his unexpectedly narrow win in 2012 over an underdog opponent, after Democrats failed to capitalize on redistricting with a top-tier challenger. But Coffman's switch is no less obviously political in nature than Gardner's.

This a very important point: contrived flip-flopping just doesn't work. It didn't work for Mitt "Etch-a-Sketch" Romney, and it's not working for Gardner or Coffman. It's not working because it's demonstrably fake. The best hope for Colorado Republicans is to start fielding more moderate candidates – ones that don't automatically disqualify themselves with positions on wedge issues that horrify women and independent voters. They need not be holdovers from a previous generation trying to fake their way out from under their own liabilities.

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