Are manufacturing jobs Cory Gardner’s path to the Senate?

By Bart Taylor | Mar 03, 2014

Can Cory Gardner defeat Mark Udall and become Senator? Dick Wadhams thinks so. But as much credit the Colorado GOP is also receiving nationally for nominating a more ‘electable’ candidate, a win against Udall would still be a surprise.

A Republican hasn’t won a statewide election for Colorado Governor or U.S. Senate since Bill Owens in 2002. Dems control the legislature and Governor’s office, and as GOP operative Wadhams and others have noted, a candidate has yet to emerge who can seriously challenge John Hickenlooper. The Governor casts a large shadow on the ticket. He’s assembled a formidable electoral coalition. In Udall’s case, Democratic incumbency is a plus.

Gardner’s yet to articulate a platform but early pronouncements from the gubernatorial field provide strong clues. They suggest the GOP ticket will run on the repeal of Obamacare, Dem overreach on gun legislation, opposition to same-sex marriage and economic sluggishness – a slow recovery.

Will this platform appeal to young voters, women and minorities and social moderates in Colorado who increasingly decide elections? It’s principled. It also similar to what’s been defeated here before. And Gardner’s ‘Battle for the Future of America’ theme runs headlong against a few economic realities.

Contrary to the gloomy tone the of the GOP’s economic assertions, growth and vitality are on display here. Energy is feeding an industrial comeback. Entrepreneurship is thriving. Yes, the western slope is lagging. But on balance the Colorado economy is a formidable engine and compelling story, a national model in some respects. As Brian Burney, CEO of Oliver Manufacturing (profiled in today’s issue) told me, “It’s a good time to be a manufacturer.”

Manufacturing may provide an opening for any candidate willing to make it a campaign issue. Last week Manufacturing & Technology News summarized research that according to the publication, concludes “There is a wide disconnect between the American public and policymakers in Washington, D.C., on the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy and the need for action to restore American industrial competitiveness.” Or more succinctly, “Americans Want Washington To Deal With Manufacturing, But Washington Is Not Responding.”

Run on manufacturing!

M&T News reported on some of the findings:

- When asked, "which of the following industries is the most important to the strength of the American economy?" 32 percent of Americans said "manufacturing," followed by 19 percent saying "high tech and knowledge industries," 12 percent saying health care, 11 percent saying agriculture, 8 percent saying housing and construction, 6 percent saying finance, and 4 percent saying services and retail.

- Voters reject the idea that other sectors like high tech or services can replace manufacturing. Only 34 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that "the strength of the American economy is innovation and competition -- and if manufacturing leaves, we will move into new areas like high tech or services which will take its place in the future”.

- With 88 percent of Americans agreeing with the statement that "American manufacturing means American jobs," the survey found that "support for American manufacturing and manufacturers is nearly universal."

- Most Americans (84 percent) support the adoption of a national manufacturing strategy that is focused on tax, education and trade policies (with 7 percent opposed to such a policy).

Ah, the elusive national manufacturing strategy. Another finding strikes close to home. “Most Americans "don't want to hear about 'advanced manufacturing,' " the survey found, with 44 percent agreeing with the statement: "All manufacturing is advanced -- they need to stop trying to come up with new language and focus on strengthening all of manufacturing."

Colorado policy-makers are tangled up promoting ‘advanced manufacturing’. Even those paying attention are confused. Word is out that ‘advanced industries’ is the new catchword. One wonders where craft brewers, burrito makers, or sew shops fit in this nomenclature.

They’re all important. Congressman Gardner may do well to glance nearly straight south from Yuma, his hometown, to LaJunta, where Oliver Manufacturing’s gravity separators are a global hit.

Campaign inspiration awaits.