Udalls Hoping to Make Senate History

Posted November 21, 2007 at 3:05pm

The Bushes, the Clintons, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and … the Udalls?

Should Reps. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) win their respective 2008 Senate races, it will mean newfound prominence for another familial dynasty in American politics.

Victory next year would allow the two Udall first cousins to join each other in the Senate exactly a decade after they ran for and won their respective House seats. And, should the Udalls’ second cousin Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) win his bid for a third term, then three Udall cousins would be serving in the Senate simultaneously when the 111th Congress convenes in January 2009.

“We are close like brothers,” Mark Udall said of his relationship with cousin Tom, in a statement provided by his Senate campaign. About Smith, he added: “We both like and respect Gordon Smith. Blood is thicker than ‘Goldwater.’ Simply put we enjoy each other’s company, and the trust is unconditional.”

Udall’s “Goldwater” remark referred to the late Senator and 1964 GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater (Ariz.), thought by many to be the father of the modern conservative movement.

In Colorado, Mark Udall likely will face former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-Colo.) in the general election; in New Mexico, Tom Udall is favored to defeat Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez in the Democratic primary, and then looks to face the winner of the GOP Senate primary between Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce.

In Oregon, Smith will take on the winner of a Democratic primary that pits state Speaker Jeff Merkley against party activist Steve Novick.

Fathers and Sons

Mark and Tom Udall are the sons, respectively, of former Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.), who ran for president in 1976 and later was chairman of the House Resources Committee, and ex-Rep. Stewart Udall (D-Ariz.), who also served as Interior secretary from 1961 to 1968. Smith’s mother, Jessica Udall Smith, was a first cousin to Morris and Stewart Udall.

This Udall triumvirate would be the biggest family bloc to serve concurrently in the Senate since Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.) held their seats simultaneously in the 1960s.

Although Morris and Stewart Udall achieved legendary status in Arizona, their fame did not extend to Colorado or New Mexico, political analysts in each state say.

Consequently, Mark and Tom Udall were forced to build their political careers from scratch — though being involved in their fathers’ Congressional campaigns and Morris Udall’s bid for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination gave them an early political education that has probably proved to be valuable in their own races.

Floyd Ciruli, an independent pollster based in Denver, said Mark Udall has been a “district oriented” Representative and is relatively unknown outside of his Boulder-area 2nd district. Mark Udall headed the Colorado Outward Bound School for 10 years before winning a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives in 1996.

Brian Sanderoff, an independent pollster based in Albuquerque, noted that Tom Udall actually lost two Congressional races before he won two terms as New Mexico attorney general and later his bid for the Santa Fe-area 3rd district. Tom Udall in 1982 finished fourth in a four-way Democratic primary for New Mexico’s 1st district behind — among others — future Congressman and Gov. Bill Richardson (D), while in 1998 he won the 1st district primary but lost in the general election.

“I think the fact that there are so many Udalls in past and present in political arena in the American West and in Washington is more of a national story,” said Sanderoff, who is president of Research & Polling Inc. “At the local level, I think Tom Udall made it on his own without the family name.”

Mark and Tom Udall share more than just a familial connection.

They are personally close, spending a lot of time together in Washington, D.C., when the House is in session, and out West when it isn’t. The two work out together in the House gym, mingle on the House floor, and have been hiking together and participated as a pair in other outdoor activities.

Legislatively and politically, the two have forged alliances on more than one occasion. Additionally, members of each Congressman’s staff also are close, including Mark’s chief of staff, Alan Salazar, and Tom’s chief of staff, Tom Nagle. Salazar is a former top aide to then-Colorado Gov. Roy Romer (D), and Nagle is a veteran of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

However, the two cousins do not share any political advisers.

Political Wives with a Capital P

Both Udalls also have formidable wives.

Mark Udall’s wife, Maggie Fox, was president of America Votes, one of the biggest liberal soft-money organizations in the country, before stepping down in June. Previously she was a high-ranking official in the Sierra Club.

When Udall was publicly contemplating running for Senate in 2004 and governor in 2006, Colorado political insiders often said that to gauge his commitment to a statewide race, they needed to check in with Fox.

Tom Udall’s wife, Jill Cooper, is a politically plugged-in lawyer with a diverse array of causes and interests. In Santa Fe, she is known for having far sharper elbows than her husband.

Cooper’s daughter, Amanda Cooper, is a seasoned political operative who is currently the deputy campaign manager for Richardson’s presidential campaign. It is widely expected that she will soon take the reins of her stepfather’s Senate campaign, assuming Richardson’s White House bid falters.

Until this year, the cousins served together on the House Natural Resources Committee, and most recently they worked together to add an amendment to a package of energy legislation in the House involving renewable electricity.

“They’re super close,” said Marissa Padilla, a spokeswoman for Tom Udall in his Congressional office. “They have a lot of common issues and team up together quite frequently.”

According to a list provided by Mark Udall’s office, the two cousins have worked together on 10 bills since coming to Congress nearly 10 years ago.

Among them were H.R. 3501, the Stewardship Education, Recreation and Volunteers for the Environment Act of 1999; H.R. 3948, in the 107th Congress, titled “To improve implementation of the National Fire Plan on Federal lands managed by the Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior”; H.R. 1042, the Forest Restoration and Fire Risk Reduction Act, in the 108th Congress; and H.R. 6435, in the 109th Congress, titled “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend the credit for electricity produced from certain renewable resources.”

Favorable Political Winds

With the Democratic Party in a stronger position nationally than the GOP, the two Udalls would appear to have the upper hand at the outset of their respective Senate races. But each must clear several hurdles if they are to advance to the Senate in 2009 — Mark is running for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), and Tom is seeking the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

In Oregon, Smith also appears to have the advantage at this point, despite running in a Democratic-leaning state and being a top target of Democratic campaign committees.

In Colorado, Mark Udall must withstand Republican claims that he is a “Boulder liberal” who is too far to the left for the Centennial State. Colorado has trended Democratic in recent cycles, but it’s a state that still has over 150,000 more enrolled Republicans than Democrats.

Udall has jumped out to a solid fundraising lead over Schaffer, the former 4th district Congressman, closing the third quarter of the year with $3.1 million on hand compared with the Republican’s $1.2 million. But many of the Democrats who have been successful statewide in Colorado in recent elections, including now-Sen. Ken Salazar and now-Gov. Bill Ritter, had an image of being somewhat conservative.

Udall does not.

“Udall is clearly a Democrat,” Ciruli said. “He will not be able to make quite the argument that was made by Salazar and Ritter that he is conservative on some things.”

Ciruli still gives the edge to Udall, but he cautioned that Schaffer has run a mistake-free campaign thus far and that the contest remains competitive.

In New Mexico, Tom Udall must beat Chávez in the primary before he turns his attention to the general election. And waiting for him there could be Wilson, a dogged campaigner who repeatedly has defied the odds by winning close race after close race in the Democratic-leaning 1st district.

Unlike his cousin Mark, however, New Mexico’s Udall already has favorable statewide name recognition, courtesy of the two terms he served as state attorney general. And although Udall entered the race just this month, he brings with him an existing war chest of more than $800,000 from his House campaign account.

“Udall is incredibly formidable,” said Caroline Buerkle, a New Mexico-based Democratic consultant. “He has the stature, the experience, and the team to win in the general election. He and his cousin made history in 1998 and they are positioned to do it again. I was at a reception in D.C. after they both were sworn-in. They were the talk of the town.”

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.