DENVER (AP) – Two Republicans have stepped forward to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall — and they’re launching their initial attacks after backing some of the GOP’s most conservative positions.
State Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs pitched an Arizona-style immigration law for Colorado two years ago when he was in the House. He was set to launch his Senate campaign on Friday in Granby.
Freshman state Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, who announced his candidacy earlier this week, previously proposed an anti-abortion measure that would have expanded Colorado’s existing ban on the use of public funds for the procedure.
The proposals could prove problematic in a state where female and Latino voters are increasingly paramount to a statewide win.
Still, Republicans see Udall as a vulnerable target because of the perpetual unpopularity of Congress. But he’s far from an easy target after hauling in nearly $1.6 million this year for his re-election bid.
There are rumblings that other Republicans might join the race, but none have come forward so far.
Baumgardner did not return calls for comment, and Hill couldn’t be reached after repeated attempts.
Neither has run for statewide office, and they have the type of conservative records that Democrats like to pounce on. In addition, the candidates will face the same challenge as most new candidates — taking on a well-known incumbent with a sizable bankroll.
Republican political strategist Katy Atkinson said Hill and Baumgardner will have to prove to donors they’re viable candidates to overcome Udall’s money advantage — something she notes will be tough to do unless there’s polling that shows a voter attitude of “anybody but Udall.”
“I haven’t heard of such polling existing,” she said.
If the challengers have a tough time raising money, she said, they’ll also have problems defining their candidacies. In that case, Udall will be able to do it for them.
“And somehow I don’t think that’s going to be a flattering definition,” she said.
Colorado Democrats have a track record of defeating candidates with the kinds of conservative views Hill and Baumgardner bring to the race.
In 2010, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet fended off a challenge from Republican Ken Buck in large part because Democrats repeatedly described Buck as too extreme for Colorado because of his views on abortion and gays. Buck opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and in a nationally televised debate against Bennet, he compared homosexuality to alcoholism.
Republicans are hoping Colorado is ready for a change in the Senate, and that Baumgardner and Hill are strong candidates despite their inexperience.
“I think what people want is someone who’s fresh, who’s going to bring new ideas,” said Owen Loftus, a spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party. He downplayed the candidates’ proposals on abortion and immigration — both of which quickly failed — and said voters make their decision based on a range of issues.
“People in Colorado don’t vote on just two issues. They vote on the whole package,” he said. He argued that Udall’s votes in support of the 2008 stimulus and his support of President Barack Obama’s health care law will be negative marks for the incumbent.
“That’s what radical, and that’s what people are going to focus upon when they go to the polling booth in 2014,” Loftus said.
Udall recently made headlines for his criticism of a surveillance program run by the National Security Administration, and he has advocated for changes to the Patriot Act. He also supported the immigration overhaul that recently passed in the Senate — a bill that most House Republicans oppose.
So far, Udall hasn’t directly engaged his Republican challengers.
“I will leave the analysis of the 2014 election and the Republican ticket to the pundits,” he said in a statement.
Udall served five terms in the U.S. House before defeating Republican Bob Shaffer in 2008 to take the Senate seat of retired Republican Sen. Wayne Allard.
By IVAN MORENO, Associated Press
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