"Women's issues" dominate Colo. Senate race

What is this election's number one issue? 02:15

DENVER - Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Mark Udall will tell you the economy is issue number one. But their ads tell a different story.

One says: "Congressman Gardner led a crusade that would make birth control illegal."

Senator Udall won the women's vote by 15 points six years ago. But polls show a smaller gap this time and the need for their support to win. So for months, Udall has been hammering Gardner for backing two failed state personhood amendments, which would have defined fetuses as people.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., left, faces off with with his opponent, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., during a televised debate in Denver, Wednesday Oct. 15, 2014. Brennan Linsley/AP

"He's the 10th most conservative member of the House," said Udall. "He's out of step with Colorado."

It was the first issue Udall raised at a recent forum in Denver.

"Some still think that the legality of birth control and access to reproductive health services should be subject to debate," he said there.

When asked if he runs the risk though of even women saying 'Why is Senator Udall talking about these issues all the time instead of other issues that are important to us?' Udall replied: "I've talked about lots of other issues."

Gardner says he's changed his mind about personhood.

"I believe we need to move beyond that," he said. "I was wrong"

And to show he's not anti-birth control he released this proposal:

"I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter. Round the clock. Without a prescription."

Battleground tracker: GOP would win Senate co... 00:28

It has gotten a lot of attention. Other GOP candidates have followed his lead.

Asked if women would then pay hundreds of dollars more if their insurance wasn't covering their contraceptives, he replied:

"Well, insurance can still cover contraceptives ... over the counter. We need to fix the law that would allow over the counter contraceptives to be covered by insurance."

Polls show Gardner anywhere from down by six to up by eight. But Republicans think he has found a way to neutralize Democratic claims about a so-called war on women.

  • Nancy Cordes
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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.