DENVER — Other vulnerable Senate Democrats in tight re-election battles are embracing the Keystone XL pipeline and stiff-arming President Obama — but not Colorado's Mark Udall.
Instead of racing toward the political center, the Democrat showed last week that he's not afraid to unleash his inner liberal, even as polls showing him running neck and neck with Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner.
While other Democrats have quietly asked the president to stay away, Mr. Obama is scheduled to headline a Udall fundraiser July 9 in Denver, a visit first reported in the Denver Post. The visit marks what is believed to be his first appearance on this year's campaign trail on behalf of one of a half-dozen embattled Democrats fighting to keep their Senate seats.
Mr. Udall's office also released a statement Friday saying the senator would vote against legislation in favor of building the Keystone XL pipeline at Wednesday's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. The massive Canada-to-Texas pipeline — and Mr. Obama's failure to make decision on whether to build it or kill it — has been a major source of division between the White House and some Democrats facing tough races in red states.
The day before, the anti-Keystone League of Conservation Voters officially endorsed Mr. Udall, three weeks after liberal San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer selected the senator as one of only two Senate Democratic incumbents to receive funding from his NextGen PAC aimed at promoting climate change as a campaign issue.
The sudden rush of reports showing Mr. Udall aligning himself with the left prompted the following puckish headline Friday from conservative website Colorado Peak Politics: "BREAKING: Mark Udall Gives Up on Senate Re-Election."
Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli called it "a strange day for news about Senator Mark Udall," and noted that a recent Udall fundraising plea says that one poll shows him losing to Mr. Gardner by two percentage points.
"Udall claims he's losing," said Mr. Ciruli in a blog post. "If true, not good for an incumbent senator and hardly helped by a visit from an embattled president who is hanging on to an approval rating barely above 40 percent or embracing the minority position (which will be labeled anti-energy independence and anti-jobs) on the highest profile environmental issue in the country."
The Udall campaign's strategy is in stark contrast to that of other endangered Senate Democrats, notably Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, who is actually holding the Senate committee vote in order to showcase her support for the Keystone XL project.
It's almost impossible to imagine Ms. Landrieu welcoming a visit from the president, whose favorability rating hit an all-time low last week in the Gallup's daily tracking poll. Just 47 percent of those surveyed said they have a favorable view of Mr. Obama, while 52 percent reported having an unfavorable view.
By the same token, nobody expects the president to turn up the campaign trail any time soon with Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, North Carolina's Sen. Kay Hagan, Montana Sen. John Walsh or Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.
Of course, many of those Democrats are running in solidly red states, which isn't the case with Mr. Udall. Colorado may not be blue, but it's a swing state that went for Mr. Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
Mr. Udall has said on several occasions that he doesn't want to inject politics into the president's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. "If the Keystone XL pipeline were being routed through our state, Coloradans would want to know the decision was being made on the merits — and not congressional meddling," said Udall spokesman Mike Saccone. "That's why Sen. Udall intends to again reject the notion that lawmakers know better than the engineers, scientists and experts whose responsibility it is to evaluate the pipeline application on its merits."
A poll released in March by Hickman Analytics found 66 percent of Coloradans surveyed favored building the pipeline, while 84 percent said they viewed energy issues as important.
The Colorado Republican Party released a statement Monday referring to "Mark Udall's Keystone headache," along with a Tumblr (ColoradoGOP.tumblr.com) noting that this will be the senator's fourth vote against Keystone.
Word of Mr. Obama's appearance in Colorado has already energized state and national Republicans. Brook Hougesen, spokeswoman for National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Mr. Udall "a loyal rubber-stamp" for Mr. Obama.
"Weeks after Vice President Biden came to Colorado to reward Sen. Udall, President Obama is coming to raise money for him and say thank you himself," Gardner campaign spokesman Alex Siciliano said. "Senator Udall votes with President Obama 99 percent of the time; Cory has yet to meet one person in Colorado who agrees with the president that often."
Mr. Biden appeared in Colorado with Mr. Udall at a May 28 fundraiser before heading to San Francisco for a fundraiser at the Steyer home.
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