The Udall family has been called the “Kennedys of the West” for their longtime sustainment of a political dynasty that has won office in six Western states.
Right now, there are two Udalls in the U.S. Senate: Tom Udall of New Mexico and his …
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Right now, there are two Udalls in the U.S. Senate: Tom Udall of New Mexico and his cousin, Mark — who is currently in the political fight of his life right here in Colorado.
Udall, a Democrat, is running his first re-election campaign since winning his Senate seat in 2008 — and it's been a tough one against Republican Congressman Cory Gardner.
The two are locked in a tight contest that has been one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country — and it's been one that has been bruising, with no shortage of attacks between the two.
“His incapacity to clearly explain where he is (on the issues) I think suggests to me and many Coloradans that there are questions about what his core is. What does he believe?” Udall said of Gardner during a recent one-on-one interview with Colorado Community Media, from inside his campaign office in Uptown Denver.
Udall has questioned Gardner's “core” on women's issues, in particular. Throughout the campaign, Udall has attacked Gardner, who is pro-life, as being extreme and, at best, shifty in his views on a controversial “personhood” effort that would essentially ban abortions.
Gardner said he opposes a personhood amendment that is on this year's ballot, but his name still appears on a federal anti-abortion bill. Gardner has said the latter is a show of support for his pro-life beliefs.
But, in an effort to woo women voters, Udall and Democratic groups have spent millions of dollars this campaign attacking Gardner for his views on abortion and contraceptives, following a similar script written by the campaign of Democrat Michael Bennet, who won a tight Senate race four years ago.
But has that effort jumped the shark?
The Denver Post last week endorsed Gardner for Senate, calling Udall's strategy to attract women voters as “an obnoxious, one-issue campaign.” The Colorado Springs Gazette said in a recent editorial that Udall's “war on women” strategy is backfiring.
But Udall stresses that Roe v. Wade “is still in the balance” and that “the Supreme Court may very well be in the balance,” so it is important for voters to know where the congressman stands.
“Some people feel that this is overwhelming, but this is a serious issue that creates a contrast between Congressman Gardner and me,” Udall said.
While Udall has attacked Gardner on women's issues, Gardner has spent just as much time trying to link Udall to President Barack Obama.
Udall was mocked by Republicans for his remarks during a Grand Junction debate in September, where he said, “Let me tell you, the White House, the last person they want to see coming is me.” And he was criticized for not showing up for his own fundraiser that Obama headlined over the summer. The senator insists he was tied up with important votes in Washington, D.C.
Obama's low approval numbers have caused Democrats like Udall to straddle a political tight rope this campaign — keeping the president at arm's length while making sure they don't come across as disloyal.
But Udall has backed his support for the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature legislative achievement, often highlighting the popular components of the law while acknowledging that it still needs work. He has also been critical of Gardner for his focus on repealing Obamacare, without giving voters any indication of what he would replace it with.
“He wants to make this about President Obama,” Udall said. “I've made it about my record versus his record. I've made it about what I've accomplished for the people of Colorado and where I think he's fallen short.”
Udall also believes he has the upper hand on energy issues and gay marriage, areas where Democrats have tried to paint Gardner as being outside the mainstream.
While Gardner has struggled to articulate to what extent humans are contributing to climate change, Udall has long-believed that there needs to be environmental protections in place when it comes to energy production.
Udall supports new Obama Administration regulation proposals aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Udall said Colorado is already well on its way toward meeting the new regulations, having converted Front Range-located coal-fired power plants to natural gas plants and having significantly reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
Those opposed to the new rules say energy rates would rise and coal economies would suffer.
“As economies and technologies change, there's disruption, but I still feel we're going to need coal,” Udall said. “It's an important part of the mix, so let's figure out a way to burn it more cleanly.”
With gay marriage now a reality in Colorado, Udall highlights his support for marriage equality.
“I do connect my commitment to pushing forward for more inclusion — not tolerance, more inclusion — and the same civil rights for everybody in part because of my Mormon heritage, which may seem strange,” Udall said of how his background has allowed him to come around in support of gay marriage.
The senator has acknowledged that he struggled over the issue for some time.
“Around our dinner table, we would hear stories about how the Mormons were persecuted, literally driven across the country; in some cases, hung and murdered because of their religious beliefs.”
Udall's father — an Arizona congressman who once ran for president — was a revered figure in politics on both sides of the aisle. Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican, has refused to campaign against Udall out of his loyalty to his long-time friendship with Mo Udall.
Mo Udall died in 1998, but his son remembers the values that guided his father, such as being able to “disagree without being disagreeable.”
“My dad, he loved being dedicated to a cause greater than his own self-interest,” he said. “It was rewarding to him in all the right ways.”
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