On Election Day, Three Udall Cousins Could Win Senate Seats

With two Democrats and a Republican, a political dynasty emerges from Colorado, New Mexico, and Oregon.

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As the Udall family patriarch, Stewart keeps up with the three Senate races and other national affairs, though his eyes are failing from macular degeneration. "He's writing an op-ed right now," Tom speculates.

Stewart, in a separate interview, says he and his kinsmen were motivated not by money but by service. "We were taught, if you were elected to a public office, you were a public servant. I thought I had the best job in the country, because I was giving service to the people."

He and other Udalls trace their values to David King Udall (1851–1938), a Mormon bishop who at the behest of the church hierarchy led pioneering families from Kanab, Utah, to St. Johns, Ariz., about 130 years ago. A polygamist, he took three wives and had 11 children who survived into adulthood, ensuring a family tree whose roots run broad and deep. He served in the Arizona Territorial Legislature from 1899 to 1900, setting the stage for more than a dozen Udall family members who later held federal, state, or local office. That streak gave birth to the family's tongue-in-cheek slogan: "Vote for the Udall nearest you."

"Legacy of public service." David King Udall is the great-grandfather of all three cousin-candidates. In Tucson, Ariz., Elma Udall, 90, one of his granddaughters—and the self-described "family genealogist, historian, and spinster"—says the Udalls' traditions arose from the ethos of the old Mormon West. "If you wanted a better church, a better school, a better community, a better anything," she says, "then you didn't sit on the sidelines and complain."

Generations later, Mark and Tom share an axiom. "We don't trade on what we haven't earned" is how Mark puts it, "but we build on what we've been given, which is a legacy of public service."

Their cousin Smith, a two-term senator from Oregon, is a lawyer and the owner of Smith Frozen Foods, a large processing company that is based in Weston, Ore., and is known for its peas, corn, and carrots. Like his Udall cousins, he grew up surrounded by politicians, many from the Republican branches of the family tree. His father was an Agriculture Department official for President Eisenhower. His grandfather, one of two Udalls to serve as chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, once took him as a child for lunch in the U.S. Capitol. Smith will never forget the setting (the venerable Senate Dining Room) or the host (Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona). By 1964, when Smith was 12, he was sweeping floors at Goldwater's presidential campaign headquarters in the nation's capital. Forty-four years later, it's Smith who takes meals in the clubby setting, joined a few times a year by Mark and Tom.

Smith, a moderate Republican in a state tinted blue, has taken pains to portray himself as someone who works with Democrats. During this year's campaign, he even has run ads touting legislative work with the Democrats' 2008 presidential candidate, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and their 2004 nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Smith, so far, hasn't aired ads celebrating his familial ties to the Udalls, though in an interview he calls their relationship "warm," "brotherly," and "fun." "They always try to work me on environmental issues," he adds, "and I work on them on tax issues." The trio has not gathered for a Senate Dining Room lunch for months, though. "We haven't had one this year," Smith says, "because all three of us are so busy."

All told, the legacy, extending as it does through six generations in five western states, has led the family to be called the "Kennedys of the West." That, however, is too facile. Says political scientist John Straayer of Colorado State University: "It's not like the Kennedy phenomenon when it goes on and on and on, and there's huge national exposure, but Udall is a respected name, very clearly, and, particularly among those who are sensitive to environmental and conservation concerns, the name resonates."

The two contests with Udalls on the ballot are opening up because of retirements. Tom Udall is running against a GOP House colleague, Steve Pearce, and Mark Udall is up against a former House colleague, Republican Bob Schaffer. In Oregon, Smith faces a challenge from the Democratic speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, Jeff Merkley.