Udall's First Ad Hits Opponent's Abortion Record

Udall's First Ad Hits Opponent's Abortion Record
Story Stream
recent articles

Mark Udall's fellow vulnerable Democratic colleagues focused their first television ads on themselves, touting home-state ties, Senate accomplishments, and even their relationship with God. But the Colorado senator has gone straight for the negative in his opening spot, hitting his Republican opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, on his anti-abortion views and previous support for personhood legislation.

Udall’s choice to run a negative ad early in the campaign may signal the difficult path ahead of him (the RCP Average shows him narrowly leading), as Gardner’s recent entrance into the race shook up the map and increased the GOP’s chances of taking control of the upper chamber. But the spot also highlights the Democrats’ strategy to retain seats in an unfavorable climate: characterize the opponent as extreme, especially when it comes to women’s health issues.

Udall has been hitting the GOP on abortion since the day Gardner announced his candidacy. And for good reason: It’s the same strategy Colorado Democrats employed in 2010, when Michael Bennet narrowly defeated Ken Buck in one of the closest Senate races in the country. Even Republicans in the state blamed Buck’s loss on Bennet’s success attracting independent women voters who saw the Republican as out of touch. In a GOP wave election centered on jobs and the economy, Bennet ran ads criticizing Buck’s opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and made what would later be labeled by national Democrats as the GOP’s “war on women” a central theme in the campaign.

Buck bowed out of the 2014 race once Gardner stepped in, but Democrats want to tie the two together. Buck was notoriously gaffe-prone (for example, telling conservatives to vote for him instead of his female GOP primary challenger because he did not wear “high heels”) and Republicans see greater opportunity in the more affable, 39-year-old Gardner.

That’s why voters in Colorado will be hearing the word “personhood” often throughout this campaign, as Udall repeatedly references Gardner’s support for a failed 2010 ballot measure that would have bestowed legal rights on a fertilized egg. Soon after entering the race, Gardner withdrew his support for such legislation.

But Udall won’t let voters soon forget that shift, and he is also hammering Gardner for co-sponsoring a bill while he was in the state legislature that would make abortion a felony, with the exception of cases where the mother’s life is at risk.   In his first television ad -- a $500,000, statewide purchase, according to the campaign -- a woman narrator says the race “comes down to respect for women and our lives. So Congressman Cory Gardner’s history promoting harsh anti-abortion laws is disturbing. … But Mark Udall protects our right to chose.”

Republicans argue that Udall’s focus on social issues indicates that vulnerable Democrats are running on anything but the flawed health care law, jobs, and the economy.

Udall has been traveling the state during Congress’ spring recess talking about local issues like forest fires and floods, but his first ad signals that social issues will also be key in appealing to independent women voters.

Democrats in races across the country are taking similar cues, using issues such as equal pay for women to turn out voters and drive a wedge between themselves and their opponents. But in Michigan on Tuesday, Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land met the issue head-on in her first ad -- which is also an indication of how the issue may be resonating with voters -- by hitting her opponent, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters.

"Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to believe I'm waging a war on women," Land says in the ad "Really? Think about that for a moment."

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

Show commentsHide Comments