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.

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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