One was to pull months of punches and put happy faces on the combative GOP challengers seeking to unseat the state’s Democratic governor and U.S. senator. The other was to try to scare the bajeezus out of voters.
They’ve chosen the latter.
“Vote like your life depends on it,” reads a recent mailer authorized by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner’s campaign. It features a shadowy picture of four faceless jihadists-looking-types brandishing guns.
Then there’s the $3.5 million TV ad by crisis creator Karl Rove’s political spin-machine Crossroads GPS attacking U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s national security credentials. It stars a 30-something woman identified only as “Melissa, mother of five,” sitting on somebody’s American dreamy front porch holding an iPad.
“I worry about my kids, for their future and safety. So it bothered me when Senator Udall said this, ‘ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation.’ He doesn’t get it,” she says. “As a mom and a Marine. I know the danger is closer to home than Senator Udall seems to think.”
Rove’s evidence for the ad is a video of Udall talking about ISIL, filmed off of Melissa’s iPad. The clip is three seconds long.
It would be newsworthy – and fair – if those three seconds captured what Udall was actually saying on the videotape. But they don’t. Udall’s comment was edited out of context for effect. What’s more, the three-second clip exploits the general public’s lack of familiarity with what “imminent threat” – a narrowly construed national security term – really means.
Here’s the whole statement Udall made in September during a debate sponsored by Grand Junction’s Club 20.
“I said last week that ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation, and it doesn’t. I sit on the Armed Services Committee and Intelligence Committee. But if we don’t respond to the threat it represents, they will be a threat to this country.”
Udall went on.
“I tell you how we respond. We don’t respond by taking politics past the water’s edge. We stand together. Because I can tell you ISIL, just like Al Qaeda and the other groups that have us on their list, they don’t care if you’re a Democrat, they don’t care whether you’re a Republican, they don’t care whether you’re from the east coast or from Colorado. They’re coming for all of us. We need to stand together to face this threat,” he said. “We are pushing back ISIL right now as we sit here.”
Contrary the assertions in Rove’s pro-Gardner ad, those aren’t the words of a man unconcerned about ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the extremist group responsible for beheading western journalists and aid workers, as well as Lebanese and Syrian soldiers.
FactCheck.org — a non-partisan group that rebuts misleading and inaccurate political claims –- slammed the ad not only for “leav(ing) off the rest of the senator’s remarks,” but also for the hypocrisy of citing onscreen a USA Today article that quoted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff supporting Udall’s position. In that article, Gen. Martin Dempsey said ISIL is not a threat to the homeland “at this point.”
In national security parlance, words are chosen carefully. The term “imminent threat” means a specifically high and immediate danger to the homeland. FactCheck pointed out that Udall and Dempsey did not imply that they view ISIL as non-threatening.
“ISIL is a serious threat. They’re a brutal and horrific organization. And we will eliminate them,” Udall said in an email to The Independent. “Congressman Gardner wants to parse words. I want to protect America.”
National Security Bonafides
There’s ample reason to believe Udall when he speaks on the status of terrorist threats. He has been an acknowledged leading member of the congressional intelligence community for nearly a decade, as both a U.S. senator and representative.
In the Senate, he serves on the Armed Services Committee, which focuses on matters of national defense and security and whose members are responsible for reviewing threats to the country and planned responses to those threats. Udall routinely reviews classified intelligence and policy proposals.
Udall sits on the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, which analyzes policies and programs that include monitoring the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and developing terrorism networks. He also serves on the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, which oversees military preparedness. He is chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which oversees the nation’s intelligence programs.
In the House of Representatives, Udall served on the Armed Services Committee as well as on the Subcommittee on Readiness and the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities.
Udall has made intelligence and national security his focus on Capitol Hill for nearly a decade, and he has approached the subject with sober integrity.
In June of last year, when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked a vast trove of documents detailing abuses committed by the agency that violated the privacy of U.S. citizens, Udall’s name appeared in media accounts around the country. For years, he and fellow member of the Intelligence Committee Ron Wyden from Oregon had lead an unsung effort to shed light on the topic, making impassioned speeches on the floor of the Senate and appearing on Sunday talk shows to warn the public that provisions of the Patriot Act were being abused for no legitimate security reasons.
In May 2011, Udall and Wyden had been mocked on the right and shut down on the left when they tried to slow the move to re-authorize an unchanged version of the Patriot Act. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid orchestrated a move to silence the two senators by calling a vote to block debate on the re-authorization, which passed 74 to 13 votes.
“I resent this rush to rubber-stamp laws that endanger liberties we hold so dear,” Udall said in a conference call with state reporters.
“Bottom line is that the Patriot Act has kept us safe for ten years but Coloradans have asked me to work to protect their liberties and freedoms and I won’t vote for it again,” he said.
“When I learned two years ago, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, about the National Security Agency’s invasive collection of records, I knew many Americans would be as shocked as I was. I also am not convinced, based on my knowledge of the facts, that this bulk collection of Americans’ private information has provided any uniquely valuable intelligence that has disrupted terrorist plots.”
The Snowden leaks stopped the efforts to silence Udall. They detailed how the government had been unconstitutionally collecting records of the phone calls and Internet use of millions of Americans.
Udall was right then, based on what he knew from his long service in intelligence. His approach to the Patriot Act, an approach that was unpopular at the time but clear sighted, mirrors his approach to the threat posed by ISIS. He takes a long, informed view of the threat the organization poses.
Gardner, in contrast, has served on no intelligence committees on Capitol Hill. He has made energy policy his focus in the four years he has served in the House. He is currently a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
‘A Compelling and Vital National Interest’
The “no imminent threat” ads mark a questionable move for a congressman who, just more than a year ago, argued that addressing the threat posed by Syrian instability with military action was not in our “vital national interest.”
In September 2013, Gardner stated on his Facebook page that “‘I am deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in Syria. There must be a compelling and vital national interest to approve any action, a heavy burden that has not yet been met,” according to The Denver Channel.
Rove’s latest ad fails to mention Gardner’s downplaying of the Syrian threat. Rather, it strains to cast aspersions on Udall’s national security credibility because Melissa, besides being a mom concerned about her kids safety, also identifies herself as a Marine.
Crossroads GPS hasn’t responded to The Colorado Independent’s questions about Melissa’s identity, whether she lives in Colorado and what is the status of her military service. Calling herself a Marine suggests she’s on active duty, which raises questions about compliance with a defense directive prohibiting members of the Armed Services from partisan political activity.
The implication is that Melissa knows more about national security than Udall. After all, she says in the ad, “He doesn’t get it.”
Given the fact that the Gardner-Udall race remains a dead heat, it’s little wonder the campaigns have gotten ugly.
Udall’s camp and its supporters also have sought to unnerve voters with ads asserting that Gardner seeks to ban all abortions. Although it’s true that Gardner co-sponsored a “personhood” bill seeking to “implement equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person,” the measure notes – confusingly — that it “shall be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.” Gardner has asserted the personhood bill doesn’t amount to an all-out ban on abortion, and has gone on record supporting exemptions for “rape, incest, and life of the mother.”
Politifact – a group fact-checking political statements with its so-called Truth-O-Meter – has deemed assertions about Gardner’s all-out effort to ban abortions as “partially accurate but leaves out important details so we rate it Half True.”
Rove’s Crossroads GPS has spent a motherlode in Colorado trying to unseat Udall. In August, it ran an ad featuring a Castle Rock mom suggesting that Obamacare forced her to go back to work. When interviewed about her situation, Richelle McKim clarified that it was her family’s finances, not national health care reform, that prompted her return to the workplace.
Of the reported $9.5 million that Rove’s Crossroads GPS has spent in Colorado since Labor Day, The New York Times has reported, it is spending more than one-third — $3.5 million – on its anti-Udall “imminent threat” TV spot.
The shift in the subject of pro-Gardner scaremongering is significant.
Gardner dropped his comfortable seat in the House to run for Senate largely on an anti-Obamacare platform. Scaring voters about the Affordable Care Act was his number one topic. Eight months later, Gardner is all but mum on Obamacare, focusing on ISIL and the heavily spliced Udall “imminent threat” video. The pitch is this: with him in the Senate, the world would be less scary. Fear underscored both Gardner’s opening and closing arguments. It’s just that the perceived threat has radically changed — from healthcare to terrorism.
With reporting by John Tomasic.