DENVER (AP) – Turning more to foreign policy in a Senate race that has centered on domestic concerns, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner on Tuesday blamed Democratic Sen. Mark Udall for not doing more to stop the rise of the terrorist organization that now controls much of Iraq and has beheaded two American reporters.

Mark Udall, left, and Cory Gardner, right (credit: CBS)

Mark Udall, left, and Cory Gardner, right (credit: CBS)

“Sen. Udall has stood by this president on every front on domestic policy and also on foreign policy,” Gardner said in an interview, noting that Udall serves on the Senate Armed Services and Senate Intelligence committees. “He has known about the Islamic state threat for over a year and yet he admitted that he has no strategy.”

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On Monday, Udall apologized for saying that two reporters killed by Islamic State militants would agree that the U.S. should not “be impulsive” in responding to their deaths. Republicans have also highlighted Udall’s comments that the militant organization is not yet an “imminent threat” to the country, though they rarely note that the senator has called for action to prevent the group from becoming one.

Udall, who voted against the Iraq war in 2003 and is a prominent skeptic on government surveillance issues, responded Tuesday by saying that “politics ought to stop at the water’s edge.”

In a telephone interview from Washington shortly after emerging from an Intelligence Committee briefing on the Islamic State threat, Udall tried to strike a balance, calling for forceful action but suggesting that other regional powers need to be more aggressive.

“We are doing what we need to do right now,” he said. “We’ve got to not make the mistake of rushing into armed conflict without clear goals that happened 12 years ago.”

Gardner agreed that the U.S. should not send troops to Iraq. “I don’t support that,” he said, “and I don’t think the American people do, either.”

President Barack Obama began ordering air strikes against the militant group last month to push back their lines as they threatened American citizens in Iraq’s north and members of a religious minority seeking refuge on a mountain in the region. Obama, too, has said he will not send ground troops to Iraq, though the administration has raised to more than 1,000 the number of troops in the country, partly to defend American facilities.

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The back-and-forth between Gardner and Udall is the most prominent example of Republicans trying to capitalize on mounting discontent with Obama’s foreign policy. It comes after widespread criticism of the president for saying “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with the Islamic State threat and on the eve of his Wednesday night national address designed to reassure the world that he is formulating one. It also marks the return of national security issues that faded from the political debate after the 2008 housing crash.

In Colorado, the race has focused on issues like Obama’s health care overhaul, reproductive rights and the government shutdown that followed record-setting floods last September. As Republicans battle to net six Senate seats in November and take control of the chamber, foreign policy has rarely crept up in competitive senate races.

“There is no evidence yet that these campaigns at the Senate level are being affected by this,” said nonpartisan Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli, who tracks national races. But, he added, the foreign policy debate “is completely dominating the elite conversation right now. You may not be talking to voters, but you’re in the conversation that’s going on between many opinion leaders.”

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– By Nicholas Riccardi, AP Writer

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