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
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Patrick Reis and Ben Geman
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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