CBS4 is profiling six candidates in three extremely close elections in Colorado. Sen. Mark Udall, the Democratic incumbent, is defending his seat against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner of the state’s 4th U.S. House district. Profiles of the candidates in the governor race will run next week.
DENVER (CBS4) – For most voters this midterm, it is indeed the economy, stupid.
And Mark Udall, the Colorado senator now in the political fight of his life, agrees that’s true.
“The most important thing is to keep focused on the economy,” he said in a recent interview with CBS4.
But voters might not know it from his ads.
Roughly half his campaign spots airing on local TV are about his opponent’s record on abortion and birth control.
“Reproductive health rights are important to millions of Coloradans,” Udall maintained, noting often that Colorado was among the first states to decriminalize abortion — or the “franchise,” as he sometimes calls it.
He shares a story that he’s told before on the campaign trail — that of a woman and her husband who discovered the fetus’ brain was growing outside its skull. They decided to abort the pregnancy.
“To demand that that woman bring the child to term… I just think that politicians should butt out,” Udall said. “We should trust the women of this state to make the decisions that are best for them.”
He said his position on abortion is “where Coloradans have drawn the line,” but he concedes that late-term abortions come with what he calls “freighted consequences.”
NARAL, a pro-choice organization, gave Udall a 100 percent rating on abortion issues in June. But his tunnel-vision on Cory Gardner’s views on abortion, birth control and personhood is so pervasive that he’s given rise to a satirical “Mark Uterus” account on Twitter.
“I do find it objectionable that certain politicians want to characterize women who have to face such a decision as irresponsible,” Udall said.
By “certain politicians,” he means Gardner, with whom he’s locked in a tight battle for the U.S. Senate. Poll averages show Gardner with a 2-percentage-point lead over Udall, who was elected to the Senate in 2008 after serving as the 2nd congressional district representative since 1999.
Udall certainly isn’t a one-trick politician. He’s focused on the environment and how it’s increasingly intertwined with the economy. He also sits on the Armed Services and Energy and Natural Resources committees, and the Intelligence select committee.
But he said the legislation he’s most proud of enhances Colorado ski areas’ ability to provide recreation year-round.
“If you talk to the ski industry in this state, they will tell you it’s resulting in job creation,” he said.
Raising Minimum Wage Would Lift Economy For All, Udall Says
Udall’s campaign has benefited from Colorado’s recovering economy. The state is often regarded as one of the fastest to emerge from the recession, and its unemployment rate is at 5.3 percent, down from 9.1 percent in October 2010.
“There are a lot great signs here — our economy is in top 5, but too many people still don’t feel it,” he said.
Udall backs raising the minimum wage, making the Paycheck Fairness Act a reality and decreasing college costs.
“These are all really important priorities for me,” he said. “We need to put them in place.”
He said two-thirds of minimum wage workers in this state are women. “Of course, women ought to be paid the same as men,” he said. “If you pass those two pieces of legislation, you would lift all of us in the process because you would create greater economic opportunity. Those Coloradans could provide for their families. You shouldn’t work 40 hours a week and be in poverty.”
Udall points to studies that argue raising the minimum wage would improve the economy for all citizens. He’s also fond of mentioning that the last president to boost the minimum wage was President George W. Bush. Every 10 years or so it has been increased, he argues, so why not revisit it now?
“It’s a basic issue of fairness,” he said.
Climate Change, Like The ’80s Brown Cloud, Should Be Confronted
Tied directly to Colorado’s economy, Udall said, is the environment. He thrives on his image as an outdoors enthusiast — he is an avid mountaineer — and said climate change and pollution worry him because they pose not just health woes, but economic problems.
“We have a real challenge, but a real opportunity,” Udall said. “Colorado is prepared because of the work we’ve done in a bipartisan way for the new energy economy. Carbon pollution is real. We see it affecting our ski industry and our farmers and our tourism.”
He supports a carbon tax, but he hasn’t given specifics on prices. “The market will set a price,” he said.
Udall said the state’s bipartisan fight to reduce pollutants in the 1980s proves they can be limited without adverse effects.
“Remember we had the brown cloud?” Udall asked. “It affected our brand here in Colorado. It affected people’s health and it affected our economy. And we joined forces and decided we would put a price on those pollutants and look what we ended up with: new technologies and a minimal cost to all of us. And just today, the blueness of our skies, the views that we have — that was an investment worth making.”
Udall has supported measures that provide incentives for wind-energy development, among other clean-energy efforts.
Health Care Law Not Perfect, But ‘Positive’ For Colorado
Just as Udall has knocked Gardner for his stance on women’s reproductive issues, his challenger has attacked him for supporting the Affordable Care Act.
Udall doesn’t say the health care overhaul is perfect, but he argues it’s better than what existed before.
“We had a broken system,” he said. “We had a system whereby the insurance companies were in charge. You could be thrown off your policy in a moment’s notice. Women paid more for coverage. We changed that. I’m focused on making the law work for even more Coloradans. And the numbers are powerful.”
About 130,000 Coloradans received health insurance under the ACA, and about 200,000 are newly covered under the Medicaid expansion. But he admits the law needs tweaking.
“My focus is working with businesses — small and medium and large — to define what full-time employees are, to define what hours are involved and to look at ways in which we can ensure the law works for everybody,” he said. “It may well be we don’t need the employer requirement for coverage because the individual (requirement) is beginning to work effectively across the board.”
He said he would consider amendments to the ACA.
“From the beginning I’ve said this law will not be perfect. But let’s work together to fix it when necessary,” Udall said. “But let’s keep it in place because we’ve seen some real positive developments.”