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Gardner hits Udall after billionaire Steyer promises to help defend Senate seat

California billionaire Tom Steyer plans to support Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall as part of what's likely to be the biggest pro-environment campaign effort ever.

California billionaire Tom Steyer plans to support Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall as part of what's likely to be the biggest pro-environment campaign effort ever.

DENVER — Almost as soon as billionaire Tom Steyer announced that his superPAC will target Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, the Republican challenger, Congressman Cory Gardner, was on the attack.

Steyer, a hedge fund manager from California, plans to spend at least $50 million this election cycle to help seven Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, those who’ve made climate change and renewable energy a priority.

In Steyer’s view, Colorado Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall fits that bill.

Gardner’s campaign quickly fired off a press release attacking Udall for “hypocrisy”–Udall has circulated a petition attacking big money in politics, Gardner’s campaign notes–and for carrying water for an out-of-state super-donor whose priorities, Gardner says, aren’t in line with most Coloradans’.

Alex Siciliano, Gardner’s spokesman, accuses Udall of failing to take certain policy positions, supporting the Keystone XL pipeline or opposing a local control ballot initiative that’ll likely be before voters this November, in order to ensure Steyer’s financial support.

“Senator Udall has continually given excuses while failing to explain why he refuses to stand against a fracking ban on the ballot in November and continues to oppose Keystone XL,” Siciliano said. “If there was any doubt as to why, Steyer’s extreme views and millions of dollars to help Senator Udall provide a clear explanation.

“Make no mistake about it, Senator Udall and Tom Steyer support an energy agenda that would not only do great harm to Colorado’s economy, but would wreak havoc on family’s pocketbooks. Senator Udall has refused to stand up for Colorado jobs, and is now being rewarded heavily for it.”

Craig Hughes, the Democratic strategist who is working as a consultant to Steyer’s superPAC NextGen Climate Action, dismissed Gardner’s attacks and blasted the Republican’s views on climate change.

“I totally understand why Congressman Gardner wants to divert attention from his record,” Hughes told FOX31 Denver. “This is a guy who is so far out of touch he has questioned something 97 percent of scientists agree on, he has voted against solar energy, voted to charge the public $5,000 to ‘protest’ oil and gas drilling projects on public lands and voted to shut down the government — including our national parks, putting local economies at risk.

“Gardner has every reason to be worried that voters will know about his record on conservation and climate issues–because it’s a disaster.”

Udall hasn’t decided whether he’ll support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, although he has signaled that he won’t vote for amendments mandating the pipeline’s construction when they’re attached to unrelated pieces of legislation.

He also has said he wants to wait until any ballot measures are certified before taking a position.

“Our focus remains on our campaign and showing voters that from securing more than $700 million to aid in flood recovery to fighting for middle class jobs, Mark Udall is a problem solver who will always do right by Colorado,” said Udall’s spokesman, Chris Harris.

Udall’s campaign took aim at Gardner last week over his own political benefactors, the Koch brothers, whose group Americans For Prosperity, is already paying for television ads attacking Udall.

“The Koch brothers are thanking Cory Gardner because he relentlessly pursues their radical agenda to end Medicare as we know it, slash Social Security for our seniors, and go back to the days when insurance companies could deny you coverage for a preexisting condition,” Harris said last week. “Coloradans want their leaders to fight for Colorado families, not radical special interests.”

NextGen Climate Action, is primarily concerned with demonstrating that the issue of climate change can be a political winner for candidates willing to draw attention to the issue.

That may explain why Steyer is supporting seven Democratic candidates who are all polling ahead of their Republican rivals at the moment, writes Philip Bump in the Washington Post:

“The political inertia on climate change is due, in part, to the fact that voters aren’t energized on the topic. No one is really afraid of environmentalists. What NextGen certainly wants to do is instill a little fear. To do that, they have to win. And to win — well, it doesn’t hurt to pick races where the odds are pretty good that will happen.”