Sen. Mark Udall in debate on Saturday in Grand Junction said the two U.S. journalists beheaded on video by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria would endorse a cautious response to the terrorist organization in order to “get [the response] right.”
“I can tell you that Steve Sotloff and James Foley would tell us, ‘Don’t be impulsive,’” Udall said responding to a question posed by his reelection opponent Congressman Cory Gardner. “Horrible and barbarous as those executions were, don’t be impulsive, come up with a plan to knock [ISIS] back.”
Invoking the names of the deceased journalists was dramatic in the moment. After the debate, Republicans seized on the exchange. Gardner said it was “shameful” that Udall put “words in the mouth” of the eceased journalists to help make a case on how to approach the terrorist group.
Udall delivered a swift apology. He acknowledged that his referencing the two men was presumptuous.
“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.”
For now, the apology seems to have headed off any larger version of the story or social-media viral feasting. It helps that Udall is a sober lawmaker and politician, the opposite of inappropriate or incendiary. It also helps that no one seems likely to take issue with the sentiment at the heart of his debate remarks — that we honor the victims by being deliberate and devising and carrying out the most effective response possible to neutralize the threat the terrorist organization poses.
In a release today, the Gardner campaign tried to connect the comments to Udall complaints that his opponent is an arch partisan, one of the House Republicans who voted to shut down the government last year in a dead-end game of politics even as northern Colorado was experiencing historic floods that killed more than a hundred people and wrought billions of dollars in damage and property loss.
“A day after being forced to apologize for putting words into the mouths of two American journalists beheaded by ISIS, Senator Udall’s campaign has become so desperate they’ve decided not only to lie about Cory’s record of opposing the government shutdown but also to politicize and exploit another tragedy,” Gardner spokesman Matt Connelly said.
Udall’s poll numbers have notched up in the tight contest this week. He announced before the debate Saturday that he was choosing not to participate in all of the subsequent face-offs with Gardner that had been scheduled. It was a predictable and smart campaign move. Udall isn’t a smooth debater and debates are unscripted, sometimes unwieldy affairs. Words get away from candidates and end up undermining the messages they’re meant to convey.
Correction: The original version of the story reported that Udall had canceled all subsequent televised debates with Gardner. In fact, Udall still plans to appear with Gardner in a 9News debate and a Pueblo Chieftain/KRDO debate.
[ U.S. Senator Mark Udall in Grand Junction and on stage at the 2014 Club 20 debates. ]