Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) — in a rare break with his own party’s campaign arm — is calling on the National Republican Senatorial Committee to pull a controversial television ad that attacks his Democratic opponent, former Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The ad criticizes Hickenlooper over a deadly gas explosion in the state in 2017. After the spot began airing last week, Erin Martinez, whose husband and brother died in the explosion, called it “horrifying” and said it disgraced her family members’ legacy. Hickenlooper and Democrats in the state echoed her calls for it to be taken down.
Gardner, who was the NRSC chair in the 2018 election cycle, said in a statement to POLITICO that he spoke to Martinez on Tuesday. He disavowed the committee’s ad and said he wanted Republicans to stop running it.
“I spoke to Erin Martinez today and expressed to her that I would not have personally run the ad, and I hope the ad comes down,” Gardner said in the statement. “If I had the power to take down the ad, I would.”
Martinez, in a statement provided by a spokesperson, said she was glad Gardner called for the ad to be taken down but expressed regret that he did not contact her or make the declaration sooner.
“While I am glad that Sen. Gardner has finally realized the ad should be taken down, I am sorry that it has taken him and his staff more than four days to respond to my phone call and request for some relief for my family,” Martinez said in the emailed statement. “Our family’s trauma should not be the subject of a horrible political ad. We have worked very hard to create a positive legacy for my husband Mark and my brother Joey to ensure no one relives our nightmare.
“Sen. Gardner underestimates his power to have the ad taken down if he publicly speaks forcefully to make it happen,” Martinez added. “After talking to him, I wonder if he really understands the harm the ad has inflicted.”
Gardner’s campaign said it received a voicemail from Martinez on Monday and called back that same day to schedule a call between Martinez and the senator.
The ad, which is one of several the NRSC’s independent-expenditure arm has run attacking Hickenlooper in recent weeks, received major attention and backlash after it began airing. The ad begins with a news clip saying neighbors believe not enough has been done to prevent similar tragedies, and a narrator says Hickenlooper received a donation from the company responsible for the explosion, and no one went to jail or was fined over the incident under his administration.
Hickenlooper’s campaign last week called the ad misleading because the investigation into the incident by the National Transportation Safety Board started under Hickenlooper’s administration and concluded after he left office, and Hickenlooper also pushed for reforms for the oil and gas industry. The Colorado Sun reported that donations to programs under his administration came both before and after the gas explosion. The Denver Post reported earlier this year that an $18 million fine was levied against the company responsible.
Asked for comment about Gardner’s disavowal, an NRSC spokesperson pointed to the committee’s statement last week standing by the ad.
“The kind of grief Ms. Martinez and her family have survived is unimaginable, and their public fight to keep other Colorado families safe is incredibly important,” said NRSC spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez. “John Hickenlooper said he was going to do the right thing to protect Colorado families right after the explosion, but then a private donation to his office from the gas company responsible changed that. He looked the other way and, as The Denver Post reported in October 2019, left office without getting the job done.”
Hickenlooper tweeted last week that he thought Gardner should call for the ad to be taken down, and his campaign echoed Martinez’s response.
“Erin Martinez is absolutely correct — Washington Republicans must take down their ‘horrifying’ and false attack and stop exploiting this tragedy and distorting the facts to score political points,” Melissa Miller, a spokesperson for Hickenlooper, said in a statement last week.