The baby-boomer generation of the West's quietly influential Udall family has reached a milestone: Three relatives are running for the U.S. Senate.
When Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., 59, entered the race on Nov. 29, he joined two cousins as candidates. His second cousin, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., is seeking his third Senate term. Udall's first cousin, hiking companion and boyhood pal, Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., 57, is seeking his first.
Tom's and Mark's fathers, Stewart and Morris "Mo" Udall, were renowned in the rise of the modern conservation movement and key Democratic players in the Kennedy-Johnson years and beyond.
"The Udalls have been pre-eminent Rocky Mountain westerners for half a century and more," says former Montana Democratic congressman Pat Williams, northern Rockies director of Western Progress, a regional think tank.
"Stewart and Mo were two of the most widely respected members of Congress in the history of the Rocky Mountain West," Williams says, adding that the sons reflect their fathers' public-service instincts.
From the Adamses, Clays and Claibornes to the Kennedys, Gores and Bushes, family political dynasties have existed since the nation's earliest days.
If the cousins all win next November, though, "It certainly would be an unusual circumstance," says assistant Senate historian Donald Ritchie, who has tracked congressional family trees.
Polls show both of the Udalls as early favorites for the open, swing-state seats of retiring Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Wayne Allard, R-Colo. Smith, 55, a GOP moderate who broke ranks with the White House on Iraq a year ago, faces a strong Democratic challenge in Oregon, another swing state.
"Colorado has senator and representative brothers," Ritchie says of Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. John Salazar, both Democrats. "And Michigan has senator and representative brothers" — Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Sandy Levin, also Democrats. "But it's a little more unusual when it gets into threesomes."
The Udalls say they did not intend to mirror each other as they trailed their dads into politics. Both first won their House seats in 1998 — Tom as the two-term attorney general of New Mexico, and Mark as a one-term Colorado state representative. Their fathers began in the House, too.
Stewart Udall, now 87, won four terms as an Arizona congressman before serving as Interior secretary for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Mo Udall, who died at 76 in 1998, three weeks before his son took office, won Stewart's vacant seat in 1961. He served 30 years, chaired the House Interior Committee and ran for president in 1976.
"He used to say, 'I wanted to run for president in the worst way, and I did. I lost,' " says Smith, a member of the family on his mother's side. "We always say that there are more Udalls in Arizona than there are 'you-alls' in Texas. It's an amazing family. I bust my buttons with pride in being one part of it."
Smith's father, Milan Smith Sr., was assistant secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower.
Besides numerous ancestors who were state Supreme Court justices, state and local legislators and federal officials, the cousins share the same great-grandfather: Mormon pioneer David King Udall, sent by Brigham Young to settle northern Arizona in the church's 19th-century days of polygamy.
Smith says their common ancestor had two wives, one Democrat and one Republican — and the great-grandmothers' party ties carry on. "Their branch was Democratic, and my branch was on the other side," he says.
Despite that, "My relationship with (Mark and Tom) in the Senate would be warm and brotherly, just as it is now," he adds. "We've got equal amounts of Udall in all of us."
After growing up together in Tucson, "we're more like brothers than cousins," Tom Udall says of Mark. "We share ideas in terms of what the challenges are and how to deal with them."
Despite his popularity and an early "Draft Udall" movement by supporters, Tom Udall delayed entering the Senate race until New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson confirmed he would not run if his presidential bid faltered.
Mark Udall calls Tom a "mentor to me and a very good friend. I'm excited he's in. But we'll have to run each (of) our own races."
Before politics, both worked for the Outward Bound wilderness school. In May, they scaled 14,047-foot Culebra Peak in Colorado — completing Mark Udall's goal of climbing all 53 of the state's 14,000-foot mountains.