DENVER — On a Wednesday afternoon in late February, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall saw his reelection bid slip from almost a sure thing to something far less certain when Republican Congressman Cory Gardner announced he was entering the race.
Since then, Udall’s campaign has metabolized fast, shifting into attack mode and putting near daily heat on Gardner, who abandoned a safe seat in the House and a likely path to leadership to gamble it all on a race that could help his party win back control of the Senate.
But Udall, 63, has been relatively quiet, leaving the attacks to his campaign staffers and continuing his work in Washington.
This weekend, after appearing at a number of Democratic county assemblies around the metro area, Udall sat down for his first television interview since Gardner’s announcement.
ES: “Now that everyone is over the initial surprise of Gardner getting into this race, it seems like your campaign is finding its focus — and that’s been in drawing attention to him, to his votes, trying to define him early. How do you plan to draw the contrast?”
MU: “I think it’s pretty simple, when you boil it down. My record will be proven to be mainstream; Congressman Gardner’s will be proven to be extreme. I think when people look at it, understand that he’s opposed to the DREAM Act, he believes that all abortions should be treated as criminal acts, those positions just aren’t in the mainstream.”
ES: “Your campaign has really been hitting him on abortion issues, on his support of personhood, which he just moved away from about a week ago. You’ve criticized him for a no exceptions stance on his pro-life stance; but do you believe there should ever be a time in a pregnancy when an abortion is no longer allowed?”
MU: “I trust women to make the right decision for their families or for themselves. I think we have the right balance in the law. Again, this is an economic interest; women should have control over their own lives, when they’re going to bear children, when they want to be in the workplace – and we ought to trust them to make the right choices about their lives.”
ES: “While you’ve focused on social issues, the Gardner campaign has really hammered you on Obamacare, saying you cast the deciding vote, that you’re to blame for policies being cancelled, and so on. How do you plan to respond to that?”
MU: “What I hear from Coloradans is they want me to make it work. They know it has flaws, they know it was implemented terribly, and that’s my focus. We had to fix a broken system. Coloradans want us to go to work and make it work for them. And there’s no going back.”
ES: “He and Republicans generally have really fought against Obamacare. He’s voted more than 50 times to repeal the law. Do you think that’s going to resonate this fall with a frustrated public? Or will you go after him for that?”
MU: “That isn’t the Colorado way to vote 50 times to repeal a law that’s been determined to be Constitutional; to vote 50 times to repeal a law that’s helping a lot of Coloradans. You’ll see more and more stories about how Coloradans have been helped.”
“And I would say I think it was also reckless to vote for the government shutdown when we needed to be focused on helping Colorado recover from those historic floods. That was reckless. It didn’t help Colorado. I was in there battling to get flood relief monies and the fact that the government was shut down hurt our state. FEMA wasn’t on the ground the way it should have been, the Small Business Administration was sidelined.
“By shutting down the government, Congressman Gardner hurt our economy. I thought it was reckless. All in the attempt to repeal the ACA, rather than make it work.”
ES: “Let’s talk for a minute about energy. Both you and Congressman Gardner sit on energy committees, and both of you have been fighting to do something to ease the exporting of natural gas in light of what’s going on in Ukraine. Is there a little one-upsmanship going on there?
MU: “I’ve always been an all of the above guy on energy. There are many, many upsides to exporting natural gas in the right way. Natural gas is an important fuel to bridge our way to a more renewable energy future.”
ES: “But you’re seen as a conservationist. What happens if there’s a ballot initiative this fall to let local communities ban fracking? Would you support it?”
MU: “If there’s a ballot initiative, the language of that initiative will be really important to study. There may be more we can do to protect property rights on both sides. I think in a Colorado way, we can come together and find common ground. Natural gas drilling can be done safely, but we need to regulate it carefully.”