Udall tries to hold on to Senate seat in tight fight with Gardner

By tonight, Coloradans should know whether the state’s senior U.S. senator is headed back to Washington, D.C., or if Colorado has a new junior senator.

Efforts in the past two weeks by the campaigns of Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) have focused on getting voters to mail in ballots and, in the last several days, to take them directly to polling centers.

The most recent ads from the Gardner campaign focus on energy, his family and claims that he will protect Medicare and Social Security. One ad, “Right Here,” told viewers that he will continue to work for natural-gas and green-energy jobs, and that he will work across party lines to increase those jobs, while claiming that “partisan” Udall aligns with the president “to destroy energy jobs.”

During his two terms in Congress, Gardner has concentrated on energy issues, sponsoring legislation to increase domestic production of natural gas and to expand renewable energy technologies. He also has been a strong voice against the Affordable Care Act, and some of his early attack ads focused on Udall’s support for the legislation. Later attack ads criticized Udall for missing hearings of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee and a Senate committee on emerging terrorism threats.

In the campaign’s final days, Gardner has gone back to some of the original themes of his campaign: a “Four Corners” plan on economic growth, education, energy and the environment. He also released his first ad in Spanish last week, called “Confiable” (Reliable). The ad focuses on many of the same topics of Gardner’s English-language ads: out-of-touch Washington politicians, the importance of family, education, jobs and the economy.

But groups such as Progress Now said it was too little, too late in the campaign season and claimed that Gardner’s record is anti-immigration and too closely aligned with former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.

Gardner has been lauded inside and outside Colorado for not fitting into the traditional Republican mold. That praise has come from pundits on both sides of the aisle who say he is beating the Democrats at their own game.

The Udall campaign’s focus on framing Gardner’s hard-line anti-abortion policy positions attempted to show that the congressman is out of touch with Colorado voters. But the strategy had the effect of also narrowing voters’ familiarity with Udall’s record as a lawmaker.

Detractors as well as supporters waited for the Udall campaign to move to broader topics. And, in the last weeks of the campaign, Udall expanded his pitch, running ads and giving speeches that celebrated his record on energy and national-security policy.

Another two Udall ads released in October center on his service on the Senate’s intelligence and national-security committees. An ad called “Freedom” highlights the leading role Udall played in pushing back against War on Terror surveillance programs that have grown exponentially and that have trampled citizen privacy rights.

“Mass collection of our phone and Internet records started under a Republican president (and) continued under a Democratic president,” he says. “I won’t tolerate it.” The ad notes that Udall called for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan after it became clear that the agency, looking to curtail a review of Bush-era interrogation practices, had hacked into the computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee members, including Udall.

An ad called “Champion” answers questions raised in the campaign about Udall’s assessment of the threat posed by the terrorist Islamic State. “Mark Udall … chairman of the Senate Committee on Strategic Forces is determined to defeat ISIS with full support for American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq,” says the voiceover. The ad makes the case that Udall takes an informed “common sense” approach to a topic that has been the subject of intense media coverage and emotional appeals on the part of politicians across the country.

But Udall’s new focus on his national-security credentials resulted in an attack ad from Gardner. In “Absent,” Udall was criticized for missing more than half of the hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee and all public hearings of a Senate committee on emerging terrorism threats. And the ad noted a speech by Udall in which he claimed ISIS was not a threat to the U.S.

A longtime conservationist, Udall has worked for years to advance development of clean-energy sources, which he says include natural gas — in his words,  a “unique best-of-the-above” approach that benefits the environment, the economy and national security. In an ad called “Colorado,” which began airing last week, Udall says his dedication as a state and federal lawmaker to bolstering more diverse energy sources has been about helping Colorado lead “America and the world.” Renewable-energy standards in the state that he supported, the ad says, “helped grow Colorado’s clean-energy economy nearly 33 percent and promoted natural gas with respect for Colorado’s air and water.” The line of argument is partly meant to contrast Udall’s success with Gardner’s legislative failure to advance clean-energy development in the state, as revealed by fact checkers after Gardner ran an ad touting his efforts.

With reporting by John Tomasic.