The incumbent’s campaign recently created a “listicle” for the hip website “Buzzfeed” that compared his accomplishments as a mountain climber to those as a lawmaker – “14 Ways Getting Stuff Done in Congress is Like Climbing a 14er” – a reference to his accomplishment of climbing the state’s mountains that rise more than 14,000 feet above sea level.
It’s a strategy that pollster Floyd Ciruli says would play well with Colorado voters.
“If you are young and vigorous, you come across as less of an incumbent,” Ciruli said.
But it’s not just the issue of incumbency Udall must overcome, he’s 63-years old, while his Republican opponent Rep. Cory Gardner is 39.
Which may explain why Udall is reminding voters of his lifetime mountaineering escapades, while Gardner seems content to include pictures of his young family in campaign ads to project an image of a new and younger generation of leaders.
Udall, an Arizona native and graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, has cultivated an image as a mountaineer conquering the tallest peaks of his adopted state.
Udall’s recent mountain climbing exploits are unclear, though. He has not said which of the state’s mountains he has climbed since being elected to the Senate in 2008.
“He was the head of Outward Bound and he climbs mountains in the fall. I think it’s a very good issue with the young crowd. Cory doesn’t have an image as a climber or a hiker,” Ciruli said.
Gardner, a fifth-generation Coloradoan and graduate of two Colorado universities — Colorado State and CU-Boulder – spends his free time restoring antique tractors.
Reminded of Udall’s mountain climbing activities, Gardner guffawed: “He’s also good at creating mountains of debt.”
“Look, he’s been in office 16 years,” Gardner continued. “He’s made things worse not better. Certainly he’s contributed to the record levels of debt.”
“A lot of people think he’s tired. They use the word ‘dour’ a lot,” Gardner said. “A Democratic woman came up to me and said, ‘There’s not the fire in the belly.’”
Although Udall and two spokesmen declined comment for this story, an aide to a top Colorado Democrat dismissed the idea that Udall’s motivation or strength has been sapped. “He’s campaigning all over the state,” this source scoffed.
Yet the effect of being the older candidate is uncertain.
Consider Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. In the general election of the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain was, like Udall, 24 years younger than his opponent. But McCain said his older age did not contribute to his defeat to then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
“I never thought the youth issue was a factor, because Sen. Obama showed a lot of energy. I think a significant factor was he was an excellent campaigner. It wasn’t a youth issue. It was his ability to motivate his followers,” McCain said
Pressed to elaborate, McCain recalled an anecdote about Udall’s father. Rep. Morris Udall, then 53, made a strong but failed bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1976.
“After Mo Udall lost the Wisconsin primary, the next day he went out and told reporters, ‘The people have spoken. The bastards!’” McCain laughed.
In contrast to McCain, one Colorado Republican believes Gardner’s young family will be an asset in the fall campaign. This official noted that more ads like Gardner’s with his son, wife and daughter will be forthcoming.