Colorado GOP switches candidates in effort to oust Sen. Udall

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DENVER — Colorado Republicans carried out a dramatic switcheroo Wednesday to improve their chances of defeating increasingly vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.

Rep. Cory Gardner will run for the Republican Senate nomination instead of seeking reelection, according to Republicans. At the same time, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck said he will drop out of the Senate race and instead pursue the GOP nod for Mr. Gardner’s House seat.

“Game Changer,” said the headline on the website Complete Colorado.

The news shocked politicos but also heartened Republicans who see the popular Mr. Gardner as a stronger candidate to take on Mr. Udall. While Mr. Buck was viewed as the favorite to win the Senate nomination, there have been doubts about whether he could pull off a general election victory after losing to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in 2012.

“I have talked with Cory Gardner and feel that he would be a strong candidate for the United States Senate to beat Mark Udall,” Mr. Buck told the Greeley Tribune. “I made the decision to step down and endorse Cory for that job. I was running against Mark Udall because I think this country needed to change directions, and I still think the country needs to change directions, and I think Cory gives us the best chance to get that done.”

Meanwhile, speculation is swirling that state Rep. Amy Stephens, who was expected to give Mr. Buck a tough challenge for the GOP Senate nomination, may drop out of the race and endorse Mr. Gardner.

The Republican congressman has proven fundraising success and nearly $900,000 cash on hand, far more than any of the half-dozen Senate candidates seeking the GOP Senate nod.

The stunning swap comes the day after the Republican Senate candidates’ debate, sponsored by the Denver Post, and less than two months before the Colorado Republican General Assembly, where delegates will select candidates for the June 24 primary.

Mr. Udall has been dogged by criticism over his support for Obamacare and his staff’s pressuring of state insurance regulators to alter their insurance-cancellation figures. About 335,000 Coloradans have lost health coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

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