Gardner's discomfort crystallizes what the race is really about: women, particularly unmarried women who live in Denver and its surrounding suburbs. Younger, single voters tend to participate less in midterm elections than in presidential contests. With his focus on reproductive health care, Udall is counting on a turnout boost among young women; Gardner's challenge is convincing those women that they should be focused on other issues.
Udall says he has stood up to Obama on a range of issues, including abuses at the CIA and National Security Agency. Still, he is one of the only lawmakers to ever play golf with the president."Over the last six months I've been a thorn in their side. On the NSA, on the VA [Veterans Affairs], on the CIA, they haven't always been happy to take my phone calls over there," Udall said.What's not clear at this point, though, is whether Udall or Gardner will be able to break the race out of the pattern it's been stuck in for months. And observers are also raising questions about the governor's race also taking place in the state and how it will affect the Senate contest -- Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has dropped in polls in recent weeks amid controversies over the death penalty and guns.At particular issue: Hickenlooper's reprieve for Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted of killing four people in a shooting rampage at a Chuck E. Cheese where he worked. In an interview with CNN, Hickenlooper suggested that he might grant full clemency to Dunlap--an idea that drew a rebuke even from Udall.
"No," Udall said when asked if he believed Dunlap should be granted clemency.Hickenlooper's challenges could affect the makeup of the midterm electorate in Colorado, which is Udall's other critical hurdle. Democrats are quick to insist that their operation in the state is unparalleled. Udall aides say their data is so good that they are targeting not just counties or ZIP codes but individual voters. Nationally, the Democratic turnout operation is called the Bannock Street Project, after the Denver roadway where Bennet had his headquarters in 2010 and won in a strongly Republican year."Forty days out we've got a ground game here that we've never seen in an off-year election," Bennet said of the 2014 effort. "Three times better than when I ran."Another potential wrench for Democrats? Pot. When Obama won the state by 5 points in 2012, an initiative to legalize marijuana was on the ballot, possibly lifting participation among younger, Democratic-leaning voters. There's no comparable measure ballot this time. Udall says that he's trying to help the new marijuana industry get access to banking services, but that's not a major issue in the race.
As for the candidates themselves? Both say they've stayed away."No, I haven't. No. No," Gardner insisted when asked if he'd consumed any legal marijuana.Said Udall: "I have not."