- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

DENVER — Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s efforts to sink his GOP challenger by invoking last year’s devastating floods are meeting with a deluge of criticism from Republicans who accuse the Democrat of politicizing the tragedy.

Mr. Udall marked the one-year anniversary of the disastrous flooding last week with a television ad in which he insists Republican Rep. Cory Gardner endangered the flood recovery when he “voted to shut down the government.”

“When it comes to the big differences between Congressman Gardner and me, it makes sense just to tell you myself,” says Mr. Udall, his forefingers hooked in the front pockets of his blue jeans. “Just one year ago, Congressman Gardner stood with his party in Congress voting to shut down the government, right when Colorado was recovering from historic floods.”

The Gardner campaign was outraged, arguing in a statement that the congressman opposed the 16-day shutdown and charging Mr. Udall with moving to “exploit victims and divide Colorado for his own selfish personal gain.”

At a press teleconference Friday, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith called the Udall ad “BS,” while Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway recounted how Mr. Gardner rushed to join first responders and county commissioners to help evacuate residents and livestock as the floodwaters hit the towns of Evans and Milliken.

“In politics, you have show horses and workhorses, and Cory Gardner is a workhorse,” said Mr. Conway, who recalled how “we were knocking on doors and getting people out of homes. That’s how seriously engaged Rep. Gardner was during the evolving epic disaster that we had here in Weld County.”

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Republican state Rep. Tim Dore said Mr. Gardner “made sure that the people in Crowley County were getting the FEMA assistance they needed,” adding, “He was the only government official at the federal level that we heard from.”

Mr. Dore also said he’s hearing negative feedback on the Udall ad from those in his district affected by the flooding, which covered 200 miles along the Front Range and resulted in 10 deaths.

“[F]or any politician to use that situation, that tragedy as a political ploy down the line later on during a campaign, it angered a lot of Coloradans,” said Mr. Dore. “We should expect more from our politicians, our leaders. Some things should be off limits. You shouldn’t go there.”

Given Mr. Udall’s razor-thin lead in the polls, however, Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said it’s no surprise that the senator has moved to position himself as the flood recovery’s go-to guy, even though Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Michael Bennet and members of the House delegation were also heavily involved in the relief effort.

“I would say that Udall shortly after the flooding really recognized that this was the crisis a la Hurricane Sandy that one should take credit for,” Mr. Ciruli said.

For example, a recent Udall press release says he “successfully secured $450 million in federal transportation funds to repair Colorado’s roads, bridges and highways.” That bill, which lifted the cap on emergency transportation funding for projects, won Senate passage Sept. 30, the same day Mr. Gardner’s bill on the same subject was approved by the House.

“The final piece of it is moving from taking credit to accusing your opponent of not doing enough or harming it in some way, and that’s just sort of where we are,” Mr. Ciruli said. “The voters can judge the accuracy of it, but it has disintegrated into, ‘It’s my flood and not yours.’”

Mr. Udall “bristled at the suggestion he was taking advantage of the disaster” during a visit Friday to the town of Lyons in Boulder County, which was ravaged by the flooding, according to The Associated Press.

“I didn’t politicize the floods — he politicized the floods,” Mr. Udall told the AP, referring to Mr. Gardner.

The Udall campaign ran its first flood-related ad last month featuring Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger, who praises the senator for making sure “we had the support we needed in order to rebuild our community,” but Mr. Conway said that wasn’t his experience.

“I might add that during this entire crisis, I heard from Gov. Hickenlooper, I heard from Sen. Bennet, I heard from Congressman [Mike] Coffman, I heard from other members of the Colorado congressional delegation,” said Mr. Conway, who’s a Republican. “I never during the entire crisis ever got a call from Mark Udall. He never came to Weld County until two weeks after the flood. Cory Gardner had been there multiple times.”

The floods began Sept. 11, 2013. Three weeks later, Mr. Gardner voted in favor of bills to delay the Affordable Care Act as part of the continuing resolution to fund the government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, made good on his vow to reject any bills tying the ACA to the budget resolution, which triggered the government shutdown Oct. 1.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden said during his Sept. 23 tour of the flood zone that the then-looming government shutdown would have no impact on flood recovery. Even so, Mr. Hickenlooper wound up using state funds to cover the salaries of 120 National Guard engineers in the aftermath of the shutdown.

A “truth test” on the negative Udall ad by KUSA-TV Denver reporter Brandon Rittiman notes that Mr. Gardner never voted on a bill to shut down the government, as implied by the ad, and that he later went against the Republican tide by voting to end the shutdown.

“As far as the flood recovery goes, it’s very misleading to say the government shutdown hurt response to the disaster. No federal workers stopped responding to the floods,” said Mr. Rittiman, adding, “To argue that it had a measurable impact on flood recovery is deceptive.”

Mr. Udall isn’t the only Democrat referencing last year’s shutdown. Mr. Reid is circulating by email an online petition that says, “Tell Republicans in Congress: No more shutdowns!”

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