The ‘Udall Conundrum’
This week, I feel it’s time to address what I have dubbed the “Udall Conundrum.” It’s important to identify these sorts of things, such as a unified field theory and the spin-statistics theorem of subatomic particles. In other words, things without any easy answers.
As many of you know, Sen. Mark Udall has been representing the interests of Colorado or at least the interests of parts of eastern Colorado, in the U.S. Senate for the last term.
He is now embroiled in a very difficult race against his Republican challenger, 4th District Congressman Cory Gardner. As we have pointed out, his voting record and need for progressive and outside-the-state campaign assistance to support his re-election has run up against a strong headwind of a focused effort by both mainstream Republicans and conservatives to retire his letter jacket from the Washington cloakroom.
A few months ago, he was named on a list of the most endangered senators during the 2014 campaign season and has only increased his status on that list with polls showing the race a virtual tie. With a strong Republican turnout being projected and no presidential coattails to cling to, Udall is looking very endangered. How endangered? Let’s just say if he were a fish, the Endangered Species Act would prevent anyone from building a dam near him.
This last week another obstacle arose to his re-election plan when he and Congressman Scott Tipton were forced to announce they were not planning on introducing any legislation to redesignate the Colorado National Monument a national park.
This is clearly a tough development for the Udall campaign which hoped to garner some much-needed western Colorado support and perhaps even draw some sting in conservative Mesa County by creating a park. After all, who doesn’t like a park?
Well, it turns out a lot of people aren’t so excited about the idea, not because they don’t like the notion of frolicking on public lands, but for worries that upgraded federal powers could be engaged to allow more Washington-based influence here in western Colorado, through increased regulation of things such as air quality, transportation issues and energy development.
This is rough for Udall, who desperately needed some kind of win that would be minimally controversial and have the cover of supposed bipartisan support.
His biggest problem in this was the actions of the National Park Service when it cavalierly attempted to ban fuel passage up the monument’s road to customers on Glade Park. This action was just the kind of out-of-touch move that park opponents had been speculating would happen if upgraded status were interpreted to give the park superintendent more power.
Politicians aside, it’s quite a way to support national park proponents who reasonably believed that a change in monument designation would mean an increase to the local economy. I don’t believe that comparisons with similar operations show that to be the case, but I know some pretty good people who thought it did. For the Park Service to do what it did at a critical time was illustrative of the agency treating members of the local community as though it either doesn’t know them very well or doesn’t care about them very much.
Udall needed this sort of big thing to demonstrate he has some passing interest in western Colorado communities or something because that’s how bad it’s become for Democratic senators this election year — they might need some help from us to get re-elected.
In the past, without strong opponents, statewide Democratic candidates have been able to survive largely on unenthusiastic Republican turnout and shifting Front Range demographics — which a friend of mine identifies by pointing out how many transplanted Californians are wearing Dodgers jerseys to Rockies games.
Thus the “Udall Conundrum” of what to do now to win over a few western Colorado voters without alienating recently arrived Dodger supporters and Boulder composters. Keystone pipeline? No help there. Deciding Obamacare vote? Not a plus this year. Unpopular president campaigning for you and raising money? Take the money, but for Lord’s sake, no photo ops with the guy.
It will be interesting to see the Udall campaign’s theorem on resolving this conundrum.
Rick Wagner writes more about politics on his blog, The War on Wrong.