Udall opts out of Senate race
December 23, 2003
U.S. Rep. Mark Udall said his family’s opposition and a daunting race against incumbent Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell have swayed him against running for the Senate next year.
Udall, a Democrat and Eagle County’s congressman, said he will run for reelection to the House, opting out of a race that could influence the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress.
Some statewide polls have shown Udall ahead of Campbell, a staunch Republican, but, Udall said, he lost what is clearly his most important poll. Udall said he lost a family poll 3 to 1 on running for the Senate. His wife and two children opposed the idea, he said.
“I really don’t think I’m leaving the Democrats in a lurch,” Udall said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “We’ve got some talented potential candidates – Gary Hart, Mike Miles, Brad Freedberg and other potential state officials.
“There’s a good list of people that will make it a competitive race,” he said. “Ben’s well aware he will be in a competitive race more likely than not. I’m confident a candidate will surface with the right mixture of competitive fire and fund-raising ability.”
Miles, a state assemblyman from Colorado Springs, and Freedberg, a Denver lawyer, are the only two announced Democratic candidates. Both have visited Eagle County in recent months.
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Campbell, 70, is currently receiving radiation treatments for prostate cancer.
The last race for Colorado’s other Senate seat, between Sen. Wayne Allard and former prosecutor Tom Strickland, was one the the most belligerent and expensive in the nation and drew national attention for its attacks ads.
“The pressure of a statewide race, particularly against an incumbent, was a concern to me,” Udall said. “Campaigns against incumbents are different than open seat campaigns. The format is why “so-and-so’ should be fired and in the process you’re tearing down the incumbent and that’s difficult enough, but it’s harder for me, because I have a genuine friendship for Ben.
“I disagree with him on almost every issue,” Udall added. “But I can’t discount the friendship.”
Earlier this year, Udall said he wasn’t going to run for the Senate. But since then, some in the Democrat party have urged him to run. He reconsidered, he said, but made his final decision while climbing Pike’s Peak.
“The decision not to run for the Senate, but for the House, was as clear as the view from the summit of Pike’s Peak last week,” Udall said.
Perhaps more tellingly, he told of his father’s decision not to run against Barry Goldwater for an Arizona Senate seat in 1968.
“My father said “I took a poll and Barry Goldwater would beat the hell out of me,'” Udall said. “I’m not saying Ben Campbell would beat the hell out of me, but I would have a few dents in my backside before it’s over.”
Udall’s ambitions for the Senate appear only to be on hold. Sen. Wayne Allard has said he won’t run for reelection in 2008 and Udall has his eye on the seat, if it’s open in four years.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that when the time is right, I will be involved in a statewide campaign,” Udall said.
Udall has several initiatives he said he’d like to continue pushing in the House.
“I’ve got a lot of fire to continue serving in the House,” Udall said. “Let’s get I-70 remodelled. Let’s deliver a prescription drug benefit to seniors that’s understandable. Let’s get a good samaritan bill to clean up streams and fisheries.”
Udall has been involved in the Colorado Department of Transportation’s plans to upgrade the mountain stretch Interstate 70 in an effort to reduce traffic congestion.
“It’s frustrating being in the minority,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve worked hard to create coalitions working with members of Colorado’s delegation to advocate on behalf of Colorado.”
But he said he opposes a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage. The measure is supported by two members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation: Allard and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave.
“I’ve always believed this was a question of state’s rights. To put something like this in the Constitution, to restrict a group of Americans’ rights, runs counter to everything we as Americans support,” Udall said.
Udall’s sprawling second Congressional District runs from Weld County in Eastern Colorado to the mountains and Eagle County.
“I have a very rewarding job. I have a district that is truly Colorado,” he said. “While I don’t represent the whole state, I represent a district that has all of Colorado, high plains to high mountains.”
The district runs the political spectrum, from liberal Boulder to more conservative interests on the eastern and western edges of the district, such as Weld and Eagle counties.
“I have from the beginning spent time in all parts of the district. The proof in the pudding is when I’ll return to voters in November and ask to be rehired,” he said. “I feel I’ve worked very effectively on behalf of people in the mountains and the people in Weld County.”
Though the economy is showing signs of recovery and Republicans may have also received a political boost from the capture of Saddam Hussein, Udall said Democrats aren’t doomed in the 2004 presidential race and Congressional elections.
“Thirty days ago, there were dynamics in play that would suggest the Democrats were in great shape,” Udall said. “Ten months is a lifetime in politics. I expect a lot of twists and turns between now and November.”
Udall said he thinks Campbell can be beaten.
“This decision was very personal to me and very personal to my style and how I would want to run a statewide campaign,” Udall said. “I believe a Democrat could run a strong campaign. I don’t believe it’s a lost cause.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.