- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2014

There are many who played a role in Sen. Mark Udall’s stunning defeat last week, and one of them is his fellow Colorado Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet.

As head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Mr. Bennet ushered in the so-called “Bannock Street Project,” named after the location of his successful 2010 campaign. The $60 million project’s goal was to juice turnout among voters who tend to participate in presidential years but not midterms, and turn purple states like Colorado into reliable Democratic strongholds.

Those target voters included young, single women, the kind of voters Mr. Bennet turned out in droves with his 2010 campaign’s “Republican war on women” strategy. Mr. Udall followed the Bannock Street blueprint relentlessly this year, knitting his heavy gray eyebrows and frowning in television ads this year as he vowed to protect access to birth control and abortion from the nefarious designs of the GOP.

The tactic may have worked for Mr. Bennet, but it failed miserably for Mr. Udall. In fact, the entire Bannock Street Project was something of a bust: Out of 10 targeted Senate races, eight went for Republicans. Only one — Michigan — was won by the Democrat, with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu facing long odds in her December 6 runoff.

Mr. Udall’s loss came as the most shocking because the senator had been so popular for so long. Blessed with rugged good looks and a legendary name in Western politics, Mark Udall had a brand that most politicians can only dream of: the easygoing mountain-climber who doesn’t just represent Colorado, but somehow embodied it.

But on Nov. 4, Mr. Udall lost his seat to Republican Rep. Cory Gardner by 49 percent to 45 percent.

“For the life of me, I can’t believe they squandered his greatest asset as a candidate, which was his likeability,” said Republican strategist Dick Wadhams, who ran former Rep. Bob Schaffer’s Senate campaign against Mr. Udall in 2008.

“I’ve known Mark Udall for years and I’ve always liked him. He’s a very good person. He relates easily to people,” Mr. Wadhams said. “And yet, in those ads, he had this dour look on his face that just made him look old.”

There were other factors, of course, starting with President Obama’s low approval ratings and the unpopularity of Obamacare in Colorado. Mr. Udall’s record of voting 99 percent of the time with the president was flogged relentlessly by Republicans.

Mr. Udall also had a tougher match-up than did Mr. Bennet. In 2010, the Republican candidate was Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, whose gaffe about not wearing high heels unlike his primary rival Jane Norton made him vulnerable to the “war on women” attack.

In the more moderate Mr. Gardner, Democrats faced a sunny, upbeat and much younger candidate who didn’t make big mistakes. He also moved to undercut the 2010 Democratic game plan by changing his position on the proposed personhood amendment and calling for oral contraception to be made available over the counter.

Still, the strategists behind Mr. Bennet’s win, including Guy Cecil, now executive director of the DSCC, were apparently convinced that the same strategy would work for Mr. Udall.

“There’s no doubt in my mind they were the driving force behind that strategy,” Mr. Wadhams said. “Because they were thinking, ‘Hey, we beat Ken Buck with this, we can beat Cory Gardner.’ Not taking away anything from Ken Buck, but they grossly underestimated Cory Gardner.”

With a few weeks left in the campaign and polls showing him trailing, Mr. Udall tried to pivot with ads playing up his image as a Colorado guy, but apparently NARAL Pro-Choice America didn’t get the message. The group launched a television ad in late October showing a young man in bed blaming Mr. Gardner because he can’t find any condoms.

The ad backfired in two ways: It reminded voters of the “war on women,” which was now angering some voters, and it was so over the top that Eli Stokols, Fox31 Denver political reporter, declared that the Democrats’ message had “seemingly jumped the shark.”

In its post-election analysis, the Cook Political Report said that the “war on women” didn’t even bring out the voters it was supposed to attract in Colorado, noting that just 48 percent of the electorate was female, compared to 51 percent two years ago.

“Moreover, Udall’s performance among women voters was four points worse than Michael Bennet’s showing among female voters in 2010 (52 percent to 56 percent),” the analysis said.

Even those on the left are criticizing the Udall campaign for running “war on women” into the ground after it became clear it wasn’t moving the polls. The left-wing blog Daily Kos ran a post-election analysis headlined, “Failure of the Bannock St. Project, and why issues don’t matter.”


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