"Vote for the Udall nearest you"

When the smoke clears on Nov. 4, odds are good that two new Democratic senators from the West will share a last name and a political legacy.


Ed Kilgore
July 9, 2008 8:43PM (UTC)

Bloomberg News has a nice profile by Nicholas Johnston out today focusing on the Udall boys, first cousins Mark of Colorado and Tom of New Mexico. Scions of one of the West's most prominent political families, both are U.S. House members, and both are pretty good bets to win U.S. Senate seats this November.

The Udalls will get some national attention this year, in part because both are running in red-hot presidential battleground states, and in part because they are examples of a Democratic renaissance in a region once thought to be Republican base country. As recently as the 1990s, Bill Clinton's interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt (himself an Arizonan) couldn't appear in the West without encountering angry protests from conservatives.

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Things are definitely looking up for Democrats in the interior or "mountain" West. They control governorships in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming; won Senate seats in Colorado in 2004 and Montana in 2006; and came close to winning House seats in profoundly conservative Wyoming and Idaho in 2006. Tom Udall looks like a virtual lock to succeed retiring Republican Pete Domenici in New Mexico. And Mark Udall has been leading in most early polls to succeed retiring Republican Wayne Allard in Colorado.

Though the Udall boys are by no means identical, they have sought to continue the environmentalist legacy of their fathers, longtime Arizona Rep. Mo Udall (Mark's father) and JFK Interior Secretary Stewart Udall (Tom's father). They've long joked about running a joint multistate campaign under the slogan: "Vote for the Udall nearest you."

If they both win, they will represent an unusual if not unprecedented family act in the Senate, particularly if Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, a second cousin of both Udalls, survives his own reelection challenge. There are currently two bicameral sets of brothers in Congress, the Salazars (Rep. John and Sen. Ken) of Colorado and the Levins (Rep. Sander and Sen. Carl) of Michigan. Bob and Ted Kennedy famously served in the Senate together from 1965 until RFK's assassination in 1968. And one Republican Senate leader, Howard Baker of Tennessee, was the son-in-law of another, Everett Dirksen of Illinois.

One family act, though, will end this year, when the president of the Senate, Dick Cheney, steps down, and his eighth cousin, Sen. Barack Obama, either stays on or gets a promotion to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.


Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is the managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and an online columnist for The New Republic.

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