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Udall campaign shifts gears, turns focus to Gardner’s record

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner.

DENVER — Sitting on a huge cash advantage, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s reelection campaign hadn’t spent much time attacking any of the Republicans vying to run for his seat this fall.

But that all changed almost as soon as Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, announced last Wednesday that he was jumping into the Senate race, giving Republicans a top-tier candidate who will present a much stronger challenge than any of the other GOP candidates — and justify millions in outside spending from conservative groups that had been planning to write off the Udall race altogether.

Now, Udall’s campaign is quickly shifting gears, going on offense and trying to define Gardner early in the race as someone whose conservative voting record is outside the mainstream — more conservative even than Ken Buck, one of the former GOP Senate hopefuls now planning to run for Gardner’s House seat.

“We’ve swapped one reckless Tea Partier for another,” said Udall’s campaign manager Adam Dunstone. “But unlike Ken Buck, Congressman Gardner will be held to account for the out-of-touch votes he cast in Congress. His voting record placed him in the top ten most conservative members of the House, while radicals like Rep. Tom Tancredo never cracked the top 50.”

That ranking is courtesy of National Journal, which ranked Gardner as the 10th most conservative member in the House based on his votes in 2012.

That’s the big picture Udall’s campaign is trying to paint — and already, in a slew of press releases focused on various policy issues, attempting to fill in with greater definition.

On Monday, Udall’s campaign sought to highlight Gardner’s record on immigration issues, noting his opposition to the DREAM Act and his support for another measure, sponsored by the anti-illegal immigration hawk, Congressman Steve King, R-Iowa, that sought to deport those DREAMers, the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents.

Gardner, who expressed near-certainty following the 2012 election that Republicans would course-correct in 2013 by supporting comprehensive immigration reform, also opposes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which was a centerpiece of the legislation that passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support last June only to be rejected by the Republican-controlled House.

“Congressman Cory Gardner’s positions align him with extreme anti-immigrant voices like Tom Tancredo,” said state Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, in the release from Udall’s campaign. “Gardner said allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the only country they’ve ever known is ‘misguided’ and suggested it would ‘reward illegal behavior.’ That’s just not right.”

On Tuesday, another release is going out blasting Gardner on issues affecting senior citizens.

Udall’s campaign blasts Gardner for voting for a GOP budget proposal in 2012 that would “end Medicare” by converting the federal share of Medicare to block grants to states.

“Gardner voted to end Medicare as we know it today, forcing seniors to find their own care on the private market and raise their out-of-pocket costs by $6,400,” said state Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, in the Udall campaign’s press release. “He voted to gut Social Security and opposed an effort to protect it from privatization. Colorado seniors deserve retirement security, not an uncertain future where a bad day on Wall Street could wipe out their life savings.”

And you can bet more policy-focused dissections of Gardner’s votes will be coming — it’s only Tuesday, after all.

Clearly, Udall’s campaign is taking Gardner seriously.

But his campaign deeply believes that once voters in this rapidly changing state learn more about Gardner’s votes, they’ll find him similar to Buck, no matter how smooth a talker he may be.

The press releases serve as a preview of what kinds of attacks will soon be turned into television ads, which can’t be more than a month or so away — paid TV, being the best way to control and amplify a campaign’s message far more effectively than entrusting it to the media.

As for Gardner, he’s clearly betting that the electorate’s disgust over Obamacare will matter more than any queasiness over his own record.

When asked about his record at his campaign kickoff event Saturday morning, Gardner offered a response that likely encapsulates his campaign strategy of focusing almost exclusively on Obamacare, which Udall supported.

“We’ll have time to talk about issues as we go, but I have a record of fighting for lower taxes, eliminating regulations that don’t make sense and making sure we’re standing up for every one of us in Colorado,” Gardner said on Saturday.

“But what I don’t have on my record is voting for Obamacare. Mark Udall voted for Obamacare. It’s destroying this country.”