BREAKING: Udall Gets a Primary Challenge in Senate Race

New candidate emerges to “provoke discussion” in race for open U.S. Senate seat to replace Wayne Allard.A member of Colorado’s Democratic executive committee and state central committee said Friday night that he intends to run against Congressman Rep. Mark Udall for the U.S. Senate nomination.

Mark Benner said he intends to file paperwork with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Senate. Benner sent an announcement of his candidacy to the Udall campaign, but has yet to file required paperwork to make it official.

“I would do this not to run against Mark Udall so much as to run on issues,” Benner said in an interview Friday night at Colorado Democratic headquarters.

Benner’s main issues are single-payer health insurance, which Udall has not endorsed, and impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, which Udall does not support.

Benner, a 54-year-old art teacher in rural Washington County, said he is also concerned about Congress’ lack of action on the issues of torture, withdrawal from Iraq and the environment.

Still, said Benner, “I don’t want to go down as the Ralph Nader of Colorado Democrats,” referring to the consumer advocate whose third-party presidential campaign likely cost Democrats the White House in 2000.

But even Benner admits that isn’t likely. He has no illusions about winning. He helps lead the Colorado Democrats’ left wing and wants to provoke a discussion. He did much the same thing in a 2002 state Senate race against Republican Mark Hillman. Benner played the role of the loyal opposition and got 27 percent of the votes.

A primary would be a distraction in what could become an expensive Senate campaign.

Udall is already under attack from harsh ads by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a conservative advocacy group, Common Sense Issues.

Udall’s campaign manager, Mike Melanson, said he wouldn’t comment on Benner’s candidacy until the paperwork was filed.

“We are aware (of Benner),” Melanson said. “I would not be surprised if he ran. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t run.”

State Democratic spokesman Matt Sugar said he had heard that Benner was “thinking about throwing his hat in the ring,” but party officials had little else to say.

Benner said he would talk to state party chairwoman Pat Waak at Saturday’s meeting of the Democratic central and executive committees. But, he added, he intends to run.

Whether his progressive platform attracts the number of votes needed to get him on the primary ballot won’t be determined until a May Democratic meeting.

Should Benner get on the primary ballot, Melanson said it would affect neither Udall’s ability to collect contributions nor his positions on the issues.

“This won’t have any impact on our fundraising,” Melanson said.

As for the issues, “it’s very clear he (Benner) wants Mark (Udall) to bring impeachment charges,” Melanson said of Benner. “Mark is not going to do that. It’s not what the American people want.”

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