DENVER (AP) — One year after record-setting floods devastated Colorado, the disaster has taken center stage in the state's contentious U.S. Senate race.
Democratic Sen Mark Udall, touting his assistance to flood-stricken communities, has accused Republican Rep. Cory Gardner of hindering recovery efforts by shutting down the federal government shortly after last September's storms ended.
Gardner, who rode with Udall in a national guard helicopter that rescued people trapped by the floodwaters and whose district was heavily hit in the flooding, has fired back that Udall is politicizing a state tragedy.
The week began with Udall releasing an ad featuring Tara Schroedinger, mayor of a mountain town that was virtually wiped out in last year's floods, choking back tears as she praises Udall's assistance. Then on Thursday afternoon, the senator's campaign slammed Gardner for backing last year's government shutdown, which required the state to use its stretched coffers to pay for disaster relief.
"Rep. Gardner put his radical, Tea Party ideology over the needs of Colorado communities who were fighting to hold on after the worst natural disaster in our state's history," Udall spokeswoman Kristin Lynch said in a statement. "When Coloradans needed him to stand up, Gardner just shut down."
Gardner's campaign hit back Friday morning.
"I was incredibly disappointed to hear and see Sen. Udall dismiss our work together on behalf of flood relief last fall," Gardner said in a statement Friday. "When Colorado suffers a disaster, we have a history of banding together as Coloradans and helping our family, friends, and neighbors recover."
House Republicans triggered the shutdown last year when they refused to fund the government unless Senate Democrats and President Obama defunded the president's health care overhaul.
Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano contended that congressman never supported the shutdown. However, Gardner, who is close to House Republican leadership, voted with other House Republicans to shoot down Democratic efforts to reopen government and for spending bills designed to be rejected by the U.S. Senate during the 16-day standoff.
Siciliano noted that, before the shutdown, Gardner had warned against requiring Democrats to defund the Affordable Care Act as a requirement for keeping government open. Gardner was also one of a minority of Republicans who eventually voted to reopen government.
Udall spokesman Chris Harris said the Republican still deserves blame. "Everyone can say they don't want a shutdown, but what matters is what you do about it," Harris said. "What Gardner did caused the shutdown."
Udall's campaign also noted that Gardner voted against aid to communities hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which opened him to charges of hypocrisy from northeastern Republicans when he helped Colorado secure federal assistance after the 2013 floods. Siciliano said Gardner had supported an initial Sandy relief package but voted against a later version because it did not include aid to Colorado wildfire victims.
The imbroglio shows how potent a weapon the government shutdown remains, and the tightness of one of the races that could determine control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans need a net gain of six seats in November to win control of the chamber.
Even before the traditional Labor Day kickoff of the fall election, the two campaigns and a wide array of outside interest groups have spent tens of millions of dollars in Colorado. Polls show Gardner and Udall are neck-and-neck. Gardner, 39, has tried to position himself as a fresh face compared to 64-year-old Udall. Democrats, however, have sought to link the two-term congressman to the deeply unpopular House Republicans.
Gardner began the week with his own attack, releasing an ad highlighting how his family's health insurance was cancelled last year because of the Affordable Care Act and warning viewers that a cancellation notice could be "in your mailbox right now."
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