The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With Udall’s defeat, NSA reformers lose an ally on the inside

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh,File)

With Colorado Sen. Mark Udall's defeat Tuesday night, the Senate will lose one of its most vocal, most active and most powerfully positioned advocates for dialing back the intelligence community's surveillance powers.

The Democrat has pushed aggressively to restrict the government's bulk collection of phone and digital data, as he did in an op-ed published with Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in the Los Angeles Times in June: "It is time to end the dragnet — and to affirm that we can keep our nation secure without trampling on and abandoning Americans' constitutional rights."

Or, in September, when he, Paul and Wyden held a press conference to announce a new reform bill: "I can't tell you how many times Coloradans come up to me on the street or in the grocery store all across the state of Colorado to tell me that they may not agree with me on everything, but they want me to keep fighting like hell to protect our constitutional rights to privacy."

Perhaps, but not enough of them turned out to vote for him.

Indeed, there's no sign that Udall's focus on bulk data collection did any good beyond a pat on the head by the Denver Post in an endorsement that nonetheless went to soon-to-be-senator Cory Gardner. And Udall's policy focus didn't translate into raw political strength: He never received the sort of late cash infusion from the tech sector that might have helped in his race, despite pushing for many of the same goals advocated for by the industry-backed Reform Government Surveillance Coalition.

Gardner, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, has been supportive of addressing bulk data collection. But with Udall's defeat, the faction of well-placed senators with laser-like focus on intelligence reform -- Udall sits on the powerful House intelligence committee -- will be that much smaller come January.

And that might make it harder for reformers to keep up momentum behind passing surveillance-targeting legislation.

That said, some intelligence-reform activists are now seeing a sort of silver lining in Udall's defeat, given that his Senate post has made it difficult for him to talk openly about everything he knows about what the intelligence world is up to: