While Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is not exactly a libertarian's best friend, he has been one of the loudest critics of the National Security Administration's (NSA) surveillance program. He may also be en route to losing his Senate seat. The most recent polls give his opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), a narrow lead.
A Udall loss could be grim news for civil libertarians hoping to rein in the NSA. The Hill reports:
Udall's possible defeat would leave a void in the Senate and on the powerful Intelligence Committee, civil liberties and anti-secrecy advocates fear.
Udall has long been one of the Senate's biggest fighters against government secrecy, tough spying programs, the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and other issues important to civil libertarians.
On the campaign trail, however, the NSA and the security state have become non-issues—not least because of Udall's own bungling campaigning:
Part of the problem for Udall is that the focus of his efforts are just not a top issue for most Americans. Americans consistently rate economic issues as the most important problem facing the country…In Colorado, Gardner and Udall have focused their attacks largely on women's health and energy issues.
Recently, Udall has taken to emphasizing his national security and surveillance positions, but it's probably too little, too late. Real Clear Politics notes that Udall needs a big break in order to pull even with Gardner, who has won all polls but one since mid-September.
In 2011, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Udall anticipated the Edward Snowden leaks by warning of gross overreach under the PATRIOT Act. He called for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan after it came to light that the agency was spying on Senate computers. He sponsored a bill designed to limit the NSA's power—and tried to strengthen the bill when its key provisions were weakened. Udall has also teamed up with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in criticizing NSA dragnet surveillance.
Gardner himself has expressed tepid support for Udall's efforts—though his past voting record belies this agreement. And even if Gardner's support is real, civil libertarians fear what the loss of a staunch supporter on the Intelligence Committee could mean:
"I do think it would be a significant loss for the movement," said Laura Murphy, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office.
"What Udall has is the institutional memory, and the relationships in the civil liberties community, in the Democratic Party and in the tech industry so that we don't have to start over again with someone new," she added, while noting that her concern would be the same if Republican civil liberties advocates were also at risk of losing their seats.
Whatever one might think of his other positions, it's clear that if Udall loses, it will further dim the prospects of real reform to America's burgeoning surveillance state.