In an interview last week, one Senate Republican aide noted the Senate has not voted on an amendment that the Colorado Democrat has sponsored since 2012.
“What does he do here? Why does he show up? He doesn’t do anything,” the aide said on background to discuss the matter candidly.
A look at Udall’s legislative record confirms the upper chamber has not taken a recorded vote on an amendment he has sponsored in two years.
Udall has sponsored non-controversial amendments that the Senate approved via voice or non-recorded vote including measures to recognize Cinco de Mayo and promoting open spaces.
A spokesman for Cory Gardner, the Colorado Republican who hopes to unseat Udall, said the senior senator’s legislative record explains his reelection strategy.
“Sen. Udall is well aware of his hollow record — why else would he decide to run an entirely negative campaign focused on dividing Coloradans instead of uniting them?” Gardner’s spokesman said.
“After nearly 20 years in elected office and nothing to show for it, Senator Udall has realized that distorting his opponent’s record is all he has left,” the spokesman said.
Criticizing Udall as a do-nothing legislator represents a new tactic to deny the incumbent another six years in office. Udall’s record of voting with President Barack Obama 99 percent of the time in 2013 had been Republicans’ singular line of attack.
The tactic comes as the House approved legislation last week sponsored by Gardner to expedite the shipment of liquefied natural gas to Asia and Eastern Europe while Udall’s similar bill languished in the Senate.
Sen. Michael Bennet, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, stuck up for his Colorado colleague.
“Congressman Gardner’s campaign has been playing this game since it got it. Sen. Udall has a lot of legislative victories, and Coloradans will know about them as the campaign goes on,” Bennet told the Observer.
While Udall’s spokesman declined comment, the senator’s campaign website extols Udall’s legislative leadership.
“Since he was elected to the Senate in 2009, Mark is routinely praised for his practical approach to problem solving and his independent, Western-minded approach, which has enabled him to build an impressive record of accomplishment for Colorado,” the site markudall.com says.
The website mentions that Udall was the lead sponsor of a balanced-budget amendment, supported a presidential-line item veto, and provided leadership in ending the process of formal earmarks in the Senate in 2011.
Neither the balanced-budget amendment nor the presidential-line item veto has been signed into law.
Udall was the second Senate Democrat in November 2010 to throw support for legislation to enact a ban on earmarks — taxpayer-funded projects to help a lawmaker’s constituents. The president signed into law the legislation sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, and Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican.
While the ban has reduced the number and cost of actual earmarks, the process has become less transparent as the names of lawmakers sponsoring a project are no longer required on bills, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.
Whether Senate Republicans can get political mileage out of the claim that Udall’s legislative accomplishments are minor is disputed.
Dick Wadhams, the campaign manager for three Colorado Republican Senate nominees including Bob Schaffer who opposed Udall in 2008, said Udall’s record ties him to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama.
“I think it will matter in the race, because Colorado voters expect members to do things. I think the reality is Sen. Udall has little to show for his time in the Senate. He’s been a reliable vote for Harry Reid and Barack Obama,” Wadhams said.
“I would compare him to Sen. Bennet,” Wadhams continued. “While I don’t agree with him, he’s thrown himself into the debates over immigration and the budget. He’s not just pretending. He’s right in the game and has been doing something for Colorado … (But) Sen. Udall has just been there. That’s as definitive as I can get.”
The Senate Republican leadership aide added that Udall’s professed support for the middle class is undermined by his lack of legislative leadership.
“In this day and age, you can’t just issue a press release and a 30-second attack ad and hop into a kayak. Today’s voter is too sophisticated for that. If you want to do something for the middle class, what is the evidence he’s doing it?” the aide asked.
As for Udall’s colleagues, one Republican Senator offered a mixed verdict of the Coloradan’s legislative accomplishments. Sen. John McCain considers Udall a friend and has said he would not get involved in the election.
“I think you can get things accomplished here without doing amendments,” McCain said, flashing a smile.
At the same time, McCain acknowledged that Udall’s legislative record was light.
“Well, that may be, but I have not paid attention to it. I don’t know if we’re on any committees together,” McCain said.
“I’m not on any committees with him am I?” McCain asked an aide before entering an elevator off the Senate floor. “Yes, I’m on Armed Services with him.”
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an inside-the-beltway political tip sheet, said a lawmaker’s legislative accomplishments rarely translates into votes and constituents care little if their representative is the second coming of Lyndon Johnson or Everett Dirksen, an author of the Civil Rights Act.
“In the Senate, it’s not like there’s much anyone has been doing lately,” Kondik laughed in an interview.
“I think the most significant votes were in the first couple of years of Obama’s first term,” said Kondik, referring to a time period that includes the president’s signature legislation, Obamacare.
“Voters care more about constituent services and things you’re doing for them. They want you back in the state or district,” Kondik said.
Kondik cited a plethora of lawmakers who lost their re-election bids after polishing a legislative resume including most recently Republican Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader from Virginia; Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee of 1972 who lost his re-election bid in 1980; and former House Speaker Tom Foley, a Washington Democrat, in 1994.