Colorado freshman Sen. and Deputy Whip Mark Udall is a pivotal figure in the intended Obama revolution, according to a profile fronting today’s Congressional Quarterly. Udall’s tall-order task is to help Obama succeed where Ronald Reagan failed by getting the record-breaking number of majority party newcomers in the senate to support the president’s agenda without alienating the moderate voters who elected them.
The list of newcomers Udall is tasked with wrangling includes two fellow Democrats — the other senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s replacement; and Udall’s first cousin, Tom, from New Mexico.
Although Mark Begich of Alaska is the only freshman Democrat from a state that voted for Republican John McCain in November, five of the new Democratic senators were elected in states carried by George W. Bush four years before. That means voters will be watching closely where the new senators stand on hot-button issues — on the rash of big-spending federal bills that show no sign of letting up, for example — and judging whether their senators are merely “Obama foot soldiers” or genuine constituent representatives. CQ describes the high-wire act Udall will be performing:
[Senate leaders] need to allow the freshmen to deliver on campaign promises to develop pragmatic, bipartisan compromises, while pressuring them to hold firm against heavy GOP opposition on the most contentious issues.
It can be a perilous political calculation. … [I]n 1980 Ronald Reagan came to Washington with a mammoth class of 16 Senate Republican freshmen. That group helped enact such sweeping measures as the 1981 tax cuts and the 1983 Social Security overhaul. Six years later, Democrats focused voter attention on a sluggish U.S. economy and cuts in domestic programs, and they ousted six first-term GOP senators to win back control of the Senate. (Altogether, there were 10 Democratic freshmen elected that year, a record roster for the party not exceeded until this year.)
With such past dramatic reversals of fortune in mind, Udall said he and his fellow freshmen feel compelled to carve out nuanced, independent records that will appeal to voters when they run for re-election themselves in 2014 — without the benefit of any presidential coattails, because Obama will have either won or lost re-election two years before.
Republican leaders like Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and John Cornyn of Texas are reportedly circling the new senators, looking for opportunities to pressure them and capitalize on any missteps, while Democrat higher-ups like Vice President Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel are throwing open their office doors, inviting the newbies over for group chats, in effect girding their loins for coming battles.
A preview of coming attractions: Udall and Bennet both supported the Obama stimulus package, but only after they helped shrink it by $108 billion.
Many agree that Obama’s holding the signing ceremony in Denver was in part a hat-tip to swing-state Colorado voters and their two new Democratic senators.