Does Cory Gardner running for Senate in Colorado mean the Tea Party is fading and the GOP is poised for a renaissance?

Cory Gardner is considered a rising star in the GOP, and a few days ago, he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate at a lumber yard. He’ll challenge Mark Udall, who has been a Senator since 2009 (but is the son of Morris Udall, of Arizona political fame). Some people call Gardner entering this race “a game changer” for the national picture in the 2014 elections. Here’s one reason why:

But perhaps more significant, it’s proof Republicans are reasserting control over the chaotic primaries that have been the party’s Achilles heel in recent years.

At the same time as Gardner entered the race, two others who had been running, Ken Buck and Amy Stephens, indicated they would drop out of it. Buck, a hard-core social conservative, was previously seen as the frontrunner, but now says he will run for Gardner’s seat in Congress instead. Stephens announced Thursday she was dropping out and endorsing Gardner. Though a state senator named Owen Hill remains in the primary, Republicans appear to have made a backroom deal to virtually clear the field for Gardner.

That’s the kind of backroom deal has repeatedly eluded the GOP since 2010, when the Tea Party revolted at party leaders’ attempts to handpick the most electable candidate for the general election.

The GOP still has a lot of problems nationally — for example, their semantics around “culture” and their limited options on the Electoral College map — but organizing in such a way where their primaries aren’t fiercely contested and the guy/girl with the best chance to win can get through without dropping a ton of money and having every “not-conservative-enough” position attacked? Well, that’s a good start at the very least.

The Udall side is already characterizing Gardner as an extremist, saying they swapped one Tea Partier (Buck) for another. Gardner does seem to go a little heavy on the anti-Obamacare side, telling people that it’s “destroying this country” and making his fame on moments like this:

Interestingly, the deal that led to Gardner running began at a Nationals game this past summer:

In June, Mr. Gardner was at a baseball game in Washington, D.C., when he bumped into Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who asked him for ideas on who the GOP should run for Senate in his home state. Mr. Collins joked about Mr. Gardner running himself.

Midterm elections are traditionally pretty hard for the incumbent President’s party; they are “new wave/new blood” elections for a lot of voters. In Colorado, that’s 100 percent the case — when it appeared to be Udall vs. Buck/Stephens, he was only leading each of them by two percentage points. Polls in the state show that only 37 percent view him favorably; 52 percent believe someone else should have a chance to run. Now, that’s Gardner.

Gardner has three kids — 8, 6, and 3 — so he can play the all-American family angle and talk of the future. Here’s how he started to hit Udall at his lumber yard rally:

“Mark Udall broke his promise to the American people, to the people of Colorado, and to you. He has stood in the way of job creation by failing to get government out of the way,” Gardner said. “And failed to stand up to Harry Reid. He has voted to increase taxes, infringe on the 2nd Amendment, to cut Seniors and Medicare Advantage. He cut military pensions and then had the audacity to decry the very cuts he voted for.”

Should be an interesting race to follow; if Gardner unseats Udall, that’s big. Senate control is essentially at a tipping point. The GOP owning the Senate from ’14 to ’16 would make the last two years of Obama even more of a lame duck than it seems it will be now, what with the influx of Hilary magazine covers already.

Ted Bauer