In any high profile U.S. Senate race, there will be moments that push candidates in uncomfortable ways. However, it’s not how candidates get pushed, but how they handle it, that really makes the difference.

Both Mark Udall and Cory Gardner got pushed this week and how they responded will likely play a significant role in how this election turns out a little over four months from now.

Mark Udall was pushed by a situation triggered by another tight race for U.S. Senate, this time in Louisiana. Sen. Mary Landrieu, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, needed to garner energy industry support, so she held a committee vote on moving forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline. It is not the first time a vote has been held by the committee and despite the fact that it passed, it will probably not see the light of day on the full floor of the Senate.

So how did this vote push Mark Udall?

Udall had to vote no, again, standing on his principle that not enough science and too much politics have driven the Keystone debate. That point may very well be true, but it will be hard to explain that justification when he is being hammered by Gardner and the GOP for being anti-energy in a state with thousands of jobs in the energy sector.

While he will be hammered on the vote, if Udall had caved and voted for the pipeline, he not only would have angered much of his Democratic base, but he would have also opened himself to flip flop ads which sometimes are as damaging as being accused of being firmly on one side.

It’s a moment that will be presented to voters in many ads, and it won’t be easy to explain, but the moment may give Udall credibility for sticking to his guns. In the end, that kind of conviction still has value.

For Cory Gardner, he felt the push not towards his base, but towards the center. Gardner has been getting hammered by ads about his past support of the Personhood amendment. Even though he has recanted his support of that amendment, that hasn’t stopped ads that claim Gardner wants to outlaw certain kinds of birth control.

However, in both a way to address the critics and in a way, get back to an Obamacare point, Gardner suggested that birth control pills be sold over the counter. That would not only prove a more moderate stance on birth control, but also bring up the contentious issue of companies being mandated to pay for birth control for employees.

Like the situation with Udall, one idea announcement is not going to take away the ads accusing Gardner of being against birth control, but it’s a move in a smart direction after being pushed during a campaign.

Both situations point to the challenging and dynamic nature of campaigns. Attacks are predictable and incessant. How candidates react to the attacks is the key. I think in both cases, while Udall and Gardner find themselves in difficult spots, the candidates have handled the challenges the best way they can.

Oil companies will hammer Udall, but flipping on the Keystone pipeline wasn’t going to help. And since that project doesn’t directly impact Colorado jobs, the traction it makes in this state should be limited.

Gardner will still be painted as extreme, but if he provides more examples of moderate answers, his reversal on the Personhood amendment will have greater credibility. He doesn’t need lifelong members of NARAL to vote for him. All he needs is for unaffiliated women voters to not automatically think he’s an arch-conservative on the issue.

Neither situation is cut and dry, but how the campaigns handled it show that this will be a great race this year. The campaigns are sharp and getting more and more battle tested.

For folks who enjoy good political theater, the U.S. Senate race in Colorado should be a very entertaining main event.

Dominic Dezzutti’s Latest Blog Entries

About The Blogger

– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.


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