Here’s How Vladimir Putin Got Involved in a Colorado Senate Race

With Russia making moves, two candidates are racing to trumpet their (nearly identical) plans to push back.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.  
National Journal
Ben Geman and Patrick Reis
March 26, 2014, 1 a.m.

Sen­ate Demo­crat Mark Ud­all wants the people of Col­or­ado to know that he sup­ports the U.S. ex­port­ing nat­ur­al gas. House Re­pub­lic­an Cory Gard­ner wants them to know that he also backs that plan.

But that’s not the only de­sire they share: Both want to win Ud­all’s Sen­ate seat in the Novem­ber elec­tion.

And with sup­port for nat­ur­al-gas ex­ports newly in vogue in Con­gress thanks to Vladi­mir Putin’s ag­gress­ive moves in Rus­sia, both can­did­ates are ra­cing for the role of ex­ports’ biggest sup­port­er.

Ud­all is claim­ing that he planted the flag first, point­ing to a bill he in­tro­duced March 5 that would ex­ped­ite En­ergy De­part­ment ap­prov­al of gas ex­ports to World Trade Or­gan­iz­a­tion mem­bers. Gard­ner in­tro­duced a sim­il­ar meas­ure March 6, but Ud­all took a Tues­day Sen­ate hear­ing as an op­por­tun­ity to note his chro­no­lo­gic­al su­prem­acy.

“Shortly after in­tro­du­cing my le­gis­la­tion, my home-state col­league Rep­res­ent­at­ive Gard­ner presen­ted a vir­tu­ally identic­al meas­ure in the House which will be marked up soon, and I wel­come him in join­ing me in this ef­fort,” Ud­all said at a Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee hear­ing on gas ex­ports Tues­day. Gard­ner was un­avail­able for com­ment.

So what does any of this have to do with Putin?

Part of Rus­sia’s power stems from its abund­ance of fossil-fuel re­serves, par­tic­u­larly nat­ur­al gas. And as Europe has at­temp­ted to brush back Putin from his ag­gress­ive moves in Crimea, the fact that the con­tin­ent de­pends on Rus­si­an nat­ur­al gas has provided Putin more lever­age.

Nobody be­lieves that the U.S. can in­stantly break Rus­sia’s gas grip with its own ex­ports: The ter­min­als needed to ex­port mean­ing­ful quant­it­ies would take years to come on­line. But, as the think­ing goes, a pro-ex­port policy would in the long run di­lute Putin’s petro power — and bold moves now would send the Rus­si­an pres­id­ent an im­me­di­ate sig­nal.

Ud­all and Gard­ner have both sup­por­ted gas ex­ports for years. Their state is a heavy nat­ur­al-gas pro­du­cer, and would stand to be­ne­fit from the in­creased de­mand of for­eign mar­kets. But with Putin loom­ing large in the na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion, their mes­saging has taken on new ur­gency, even to the point that one can­did­ate will point out that he got a one-day jump on his com­pet­it­or to file nearly identic­al le­gis­la­tion.

Mem­bers of Con­gress from both parties have been in­tro­du­cing pro-ex­port le­gis­la­tion for years. But in a hy­per-com­pet­it­ive polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment, com­bined with a tight race in a purple state, can­did­ates are in­clined to take every inch (or day) they can get.

And even this time around, the Col­or­ado can­did­ates were only part of a crowded field in ra­cing to to file pro-ex­port le­gis­la­tion. Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Mi­chael Turn­er of Ohio filed a nearly identic­al meas­ure on March 4 — two days be­fore Gard­ner, and one be­fore Ud­all.

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