Rep. Udall announces his bid for senate |

Rep. Udall announces his bid for senate

Steven K. Paulson/AP Writer
Mark Udall stands outside of his new Minturn office located at 291 Main Street. Udall held a press conference to discuss his wilderness proposal for the White River National Forest.

DENVER – Hours after GOP Gov. Bill Owens decided against running for the U.S. Senate, Democratic Rep. Mark Udall announced his campaign for the seat in what could be one of the most competitive races in the nation.

“I’m in the race. I’m packing my ropes and I’m getting ready to climb the mountain,” Udall told The Associated Press Tuesday evening. He scheduled a Wednesday news conference to discuss his candidacy.

With Owens’ decision, the GOP lacks a high-profile candidate, though U.S. Reps. Bob Beauprez, Tom Tancredo and Scott McInnis have all said they are interested.

Udall, son of former U.S. Rep. Morris “Mo” Udall of Arizona, said he does not know how many other Democrats will run but is not concerned about an August primary after a number of Democrats said they are still in the race.

“I think our country is on the wrong track. My voice would people back to work, clean the environment and help bring the people in Iraq home,” Udall said.

He is considered a strong candidate because of his environmental record and his name recognition.

Udall, 53, was elected to the Colorado House in 1996 and to the U.S. House in 1998. His father served in Congress from 1961 to 1991 and was a candidate for president in 1976.

Pollster Paul Talmey said Udall will be a formidable candidate against the Republicans who have indicated they are interested in running, including his three fellow GOP House colleagues.

“I think this will be a real horse race. You’re going to see a ton of money flowing into this state. This race could change the majority in the Senate,” Talmey said.

Earlier Tuesday, Owens said his family is more important than national office and that he will finish out his second term as governor, which ends in 2006. He said the decision came down to more than “strategy and polls.”

“It comes down to what you know in your heart is the right thing to do,” he said at a news conference. “This time is not right for me, my family or for Colorado to make the kind of personal and professional commitment I know I must make to ensure victory.”

Owens, 53, and his wife, Frances, are separated. They have three children. In a rare public statement, the first lady said Owens had his family’s support either way, but backed his decision “to put the needs of our family and Colorado ahead of this opportunity.”

The Senate seat is being vacated by Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell, 70, whose office is embroiled in a scandal involving alleged kickbacks to an aide. He abruptly announced last week that he will not seek a third term because of health reasons.

Until then, the seat had been considered safe for the GOP, which holds a 51-48 margin in the Senate. The lone independent tends to vote with Democrats.

So far, 14 potential candidates have indicated an interest in the race.

Beauprez said he would take a few days to talk with family and friends and gauge political support. None of the other Republicans had immediate comment Tuesday, and state Republican Party Chairman Ted Halaby warned the three congressmen that they risk losing safe seats and squandering resources if two do not back off.

“They have to consider raising considerable amounts of money and the ramifications of creating an open seat,” Halaby said.

On the Democratic side, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar is considering running for the seat against five Democrats already in the race.

Owens said he encouraged Beauprez to run.

Beauprez won election by just 121 votes against Democrat Mike Feeley two years ago in the nation’s last congressional race to be decided. Tancredo, meanwhile, has angered the Bush administration by criticizing the president’s immigration policies. McInnis, who shepherded President Bush’s “Healthy Forests” initiative through Congress, is retiring from after six terms.

Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Colorado has joined other states including Oklahoma, Illinois and Alaska with very competitive Senate races. He urged state party officials to do what they could to avoid a bruising primary.

GOP officials had urged Owens to run, saying recent polling showed him the best candidate against the five relatively unknown Democratic candidates. He also won re-election in 2002 with 65 percent of the vote.

Owens said he spent a week talking about the Senate race with his family and others close to him.

“My family supported me if I chose to run and they support my decision not to run,” he said.

Already in the race for the Democrats are Rutt Bridges, a think tank founder and millionaire businessman; Mike Miles, an El Paso County educator; Larry Johnson, a Boulder lawyer; Brad Freedberg, a Denver lawyer; and Elizabeth Baker, a Boulder businessman.

After Udall’s announcement, Bridges said he will remain in the race while Freedberg said he will reassess his campaign but won’t make a decision immediately.

A spokeswoman for former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart said he was out of the country and would have no comment.

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