Congress is hardly functioning these days. It can’t pass legislation that is controversial and it often can’t even pass legislation on which there is broad agreement. Its reputation is abysmal, and even its members rarely dispute the popular indictment.

It needs fresh leadership, energy and ideas, and Cory Gardner can help provide them in the U.S. Senate.

In every position the Yuma Republican has held over the years — from the state legislature to U.S. House of Representatives — he has quickly become someone to be reckoned with and whose words carry weight. ABC News, for example, singled out Gardner a year ago — before he declared for the Senate — as one of the party’s “rising stars” who represented “a new generation of talent” and who had become a “go-to” member of leadership.

And this was about someone who wasn’t elected to Congress until 2010. Nor is Gardner a political time-server interested only in professional security. He is giving up a safe seat in the House to challenge a one-term Senate incumbent, Democrat Mark Udall, in what is typically an uphill effort.

It’s time for a change

Fortunately for Gardner, the polls are showing the contest a tossup. Voters may be sensing the time has come for change.

Udall is a fine man with good intentions, and on some issues our views are closer to his than to Gardner’s. But he is not perceived as a leader in Washington and, with rare exceptions such as wind energy and intelligence gathering, he is not at the center of the issues that count — as his Democratic colleague, Sen. Michael Bennet, always seems to be.

Rather than run on his record, Udall’s campaign has devoted a shocking amount of energy and money trying to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control despite the congressman’s call for over-the-counter sales of contraceptives. Udall is trying to frighten voters rather than inspire them with a hopeful vision. His obnoxious one-issue campaign is an insult to those he seeks to convince.

One-two punch in Senate

If Gardner’s past is any guide, he would very likely match Bennet’s influence in the upper chamber, providing Colorado with a powerful one-two punch and pairing two young, energetic senators with clout on both sides of the aisle.

If Gardner wins, of course, it could mean the Senate has flipped to Republicans. However, that doesn’t mean it will simply butt heads with President Obama as the Republican House has done. As The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib recently pointed out, “A look back shows that eras of evenly divided power — Congress fully controlled by one party, the presidency by the other — have turned out to be among the most productive” because both sides temper their policies.

By contrast, we can be sure of what will happen in the next two years on issues such as immigration, tax reform, entitlement reform and military spending if the status quo persists: little to nothing. And yet these issues are critical to the nation’s economic health and a long-awaited boost for middle-class incomes.

Gardner has sound ideas on tax reform that could help the economy take off and has expressed willingness to compromise on immigration despite a fairly hard line over the years. And his stance on defense spending appears closer to those of Rep. Mike Coffman, who favors restraint, than to those in the GOP who view the military as sacrosanct.

If Gardner had been a cultural warrior throughout his career, we would hesitate to support him, because we strongly disagree with him on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. But in fact he has emphasized economic and energy issues (and was, for example, an early supporter among Republicans of renewable energy).

For that matter, his past views on same-sex marriage are becoming irrelevant now that the Supreme Court has let appeals court rulings stand and marriage equality appears unstoppable. And contrary to Udall’s tedious refrain, Gardner’s election would pose no threat to abortion rights.

Credit to Udall on spying

We’d be remiss in not giving credit to Udall for using his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee to crusade against spying activities that encroach on individual freedom and privacy. Gardner himself has praised the senator’s efforts there. But the congressman hasn’t been oblivious to this issue, either. He was a co-sponsor last year of the USA Freedom Act, which the ACLU praised as “real spying reform.”

Many Coloradans are no doubt sick of the overload of negative ads that have assaulted them from both sides, painting Gardner as an extremist and Udall as a mindless vote for the president’s policies. Neither portrait is fair. But in their irritation with the campaigns, voters should not lose sight of the fact that a great deal is at stake. A dysfunctional Congress calls for action when voters have an attractive option to the gridlocked status quo. And in Colorado, thankfully, they do in Cory Gardner.

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http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_26701817/cory-gardner-u-s-senate