DENVER -- Democratic Sen. Mark Udall apologized Monday for a comment he made Saturday night during his first debate with GOP Congressman Cory Gardner in which he invoked the names of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the two American journalists recently beheaded by the terror group ISIL, to argue that the U.S. should be cautious in dealing with ISIL.
"When addressing ISIL during this weekend's debate, I should not have invoked the names of James Foley and Steven Sotloff," Udall said in a statement. "It was inappropriate and I sincerely apologize.
When pressed by Gardner's about his claim that he doesn't think ISIL poses an "imminent threat" to the country, Udall clarified that he meant the group is not a threat to the nation at the moment, and then went further.
"I can tell you," Udall said, "Steve Sotloff and James Foley would tell us, don’t be impulsive. Horrible and barbarous as those executions were, don’t be impulsive, come up with a plan to knock ISIL back."
Audible groans surfaced from some in the audience while others applauded Udall's remark.
On Monday, Republicans began pushing video of the comments, asking what Foley and Sotloff's families might make of the politician invoking the journalist's names and presuming to know what they might think the U.S. should do to contain and dismantle the terror group.
Gardner himself issued a statement slamming Udall Monday afternoon.
"Americans have watched in horror in recent weeks as two of our fellow countrymen have been brutally executed by terrorists, and it’s outrageous that Senator Udall would put words into the mouths of dead Americans," said Gardner.
"Furthermore, it's deeply troubling that he views a terrorist organization like ISIL as not an imminent threat to America."
With two new polls showing Udall holding a slight lead over Gardner, Republicans may believe the comments provide an opportunity to open up a new line of attack that might shift the campaign discussion away from Gardner's positions on women's health issues.
For Udall, it's a clear unforced error -- how large of one remains to be seen.
The quick apology Monday afternoon is an indication that Udall's campaign realized it had a problem on its hands and an effort to limit the political damage.
"My intent was to emphasize the importance of taking the right next steps as we confront this serious threat," Udall said in his statement Monday. "It is critically important for the United States, our allies and countries in the region to beat back ISIL.
"These terrorists are a serious threat to U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East, and Americans are counting on their leaders to get this right. I will continue to push the Administration and demand that our country's approach is both tough and smart."