U.S. Senate race reaches its very rough and tumble final lap

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The race to fill the seat retired by U.S. Senator Wayne Allard has been a rough and tumble ride for Democrat Congressman Mark Udall and former Republican Congressman Bob Schaffer. The two men have agreed and disagreed on political issues — mostly conforming to their partisan philosophies — and displayed vast differences in personal style.

The style distinctions were obvious to the millions who watched Meet the Press on Sept. 28. Udall calmly presented his positions, and Schaffer boisterously bullied him.

“That’s not true!” or “Tell us what you’ve done!” demanded Schaffer, bobbing up and down in his chair and interrupting Udall on an average of once every 45 seconds.

“Let me finish,” Udall implored more than a dozen times in the first 10 minutes.

Before seeking a fourth term from the 2nd Congressional District in 2006, Udall indicated his interest in running for the U.S. Senate in 2008. Udall had considered running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, but abandoned the idea when then-Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar entered the primary.

Schaffer began campaigning to be the state GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate in 2006, but another popular Republican congressman also was entertaining a bid for the seat. Former Rep. Scott McInnis of the 3rd Congressional District withdrew from the fray in March 2007, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Some Republicans were disappointed. They said McInnis was perceived as a moderate, traditional Republican with bipartisan appeal and would give the GOP its best shot to beat Udall.

With McInnis out of the way, Schaffer was free to run without interference on the Republican ticket. Insiders claimed he was cashing a political IOU — Schaffer had lost the 2004 Republican Senate primary to Pete Coors, who, in turn, lost the general election to Salazar.

Schaffer had served in the state Legislature and represented the 4th Congressional District from 1997 to 2003. He quit after three terms, honoring his pledge to voters to limit his term.

In the homestretch, Schaffer and Udall are pitching to voters around the state — but who’s on the fence? According to a Rocky Mountain News/CBS4 News poll conducted Oct. 21-23, virtually no undecided voters remain. A week earlier, a survey by Rasmussen had found 3 percent of voters undecided, and a poll by Hill Research had found 13 percent undecided.

Udall has outpolled Schaffer in 38 of 41 polls conducted by multiple firms since August 2007; the candidates tied in the remaining three polls.

Since the Sept. 14 Wall Street slide, more than a dozen polls have shown Udall surging 2 to 14 percentage points ahead of Schaffer.

“…following the financial turmoil in the markets, ballot shares for Republican candidates John McCain and Bob Schaffer were down,” said David B. Hill, director of Texas-based Hill Research Consultants, in a memo to the Schaffer campaign.

However, polling from October 14-17, Hill said, indicated that “there has been a return to the Republicans, narrowing the deficit to just outside the margin of error” of 3.9 percent.

According to the three-day average of voter surveys, Hill reported that 43 percent favor Udall, 39 percent favor Schaffer, and 6 percent split evenly at 2 percent each for Green Party candidate Bob Kinsey, American Constitution Party candidate Douglas Dayhorse Campell and Independent candidate Buddy Moore. Of the 13 percent undecided voters, 32 percent identified themselves as Republicans, 19 percent as Democrats and the remaining 49 percent as unaffiliated or independent.

“Surprisingly, name ID and familiarity is still an issue with these late deciders,” Hill said. “Schaffer’s hard name ID is just 50 percent. By comparison, Udall’s hard name ID is 61 percent.”

Hard name ID is a political polling term for the ability of a voter to identify a candidate, whether the association is positive or negative.

If Hill is correct in factoring the presidential race into the Senate contest, the voting trend will favor Udall over Schaffer.

An Oct.16 poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports found that Udall held a 7 point lead over Schaffer, 51 percent to 38 percent, third party candidates excluded.

The Fox News/Rasmussen Reports survey of Colorado voters on Oct. 26 reported Barack Obama leading McCain by 4 points, 50 percent to 46 percent. However, three weeks ago, Obama held a 7-point lead over McCain. The pollster said that the Republican had consistently trailed the Democrat in previous polls of Colorado voters.

Money has poured into the race from the campaigns as well as external political committees. After the campaigns filed their third quarter finance reports with the Federal Election Committee — and a couple weeks before the Nov. 4 election event — the shockeroo hit.

That’s when the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (RSCC) withdrew funding to aid Schaffer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) withdrew its cash from Udall in order to boost candidates in other states.

Although the Udall campaign raised more than $2.7 million in the third quarter, it reported just $545,963 cash on hand. The Schaffer campaign reported more than $2.7 million in the coffers on the Oct. 15 report.

“Boulder liberal Mark Udall is spending money like a, well, Boulder liberal!” declared Dick Wadhams, Schaffer’s campaign manager and state GOP chair. “His campaign blew through more cash in the last quarter than any other Senate candidate in the country — $6.17 million in just 92 days.”

Even though his campaign is rolling in dough, Wadhams issued a fundraising e-mail to supporters, asking for donations of $15 to $1,000 to “keep pace with Boulder liberal Udall’s campaign in the final sprint.”

Udall’s campaign realizes “undecided voters are just now tuning in, and their fundraising advantage has evaporated! Now they desperately need more cash!” said a gleeful Wadhams.

Wadhams has described Udall’s campaign staff as “cocky” and “arrogant.” Udall’s staff holds Wadhams in equally low esteem.

In a plea for cash infusion, Udall campaign manager Mike Melanson told supporters that “Schaffer’s report revealed he has stockpiled a huge sum of money — nearly $3 million — for use in the final weeks before Election Day. That’s a far higher cash-on-hand figure than we reported, an alarming advantage we must act to remedy right now.”

Melanson set a goal to raise $250,000 within two weeks.

“Bob Schaffer has been letting all the outside groups do his dirty work. That’s over $15 million work of hard-hitting, false attacks on Mark,” complained Melanson, adding that Schaffer had hoarded money for a “last ditch assault” on Udall.

The assault, Melanson mused, would be a blitz of radio and television ads. It’s in the bag — Wadhams said the Schaffer campaign has already slated and paid for electronic media buys.

If Udall wins the U.S. Senate race he won’t be the first “Boulder liberal” to win the seat. In 1986, Democratic CD 2 Rep. Tim Wirth defeated Republican 5th Congressional District Rep. Ken Kramer by a slim margin — 49.9 percent to 48.4 percent.

Defining moments on
the campaign trail

• May 2007: Schaffer informally announces his U.S. Senate bid to 100 Republicans at the Lincoln Day dinner in Teller County.

• Sept. 2007: Schaffer redefines himself as “mainstream,” distancing himself from his conservative political reputation, deeming a mainstream identity more appealing to statewide voters than the “liberal” persona of his Democrat opponent, Udall.

“Right now we’re listening, traveling and meeting with people to get ideas,” Schaffer told a dozen Republicans gathered at a Starbucks in Colorado Springs.

“We’re going to build a campaign that’s the message of a lot people rather than the traditional way,” he explained.

Traditional campaigns are “candidates telling you what they’re for and asking you to buy it. We’re not going to do it that way.”

Schaffer acknowledged that a recent poll indicated that his name ID was “soft” in El Paso County and in two counties on the Western Slope — all of which were considered safe havens for Republicans.

Schaffer had been working the campaign trail for three months; however, his positions on issues were not cited on his brochures or Web site.

• March 2008: Schaffer hires Colorado Republican Chair Dick Wadhams to manage his campaign. Wadhams had previously worked for Colorado Sen. Bill Armstrong, Sen. Wayne Allard and Gov. Bill Owens.

• May 2008: Udall launches his campaign with the “Standing Up for Colorado” tour of 16 cities.

“Standing up for Colorado will be my job in the U.S. Senate, and that’s why I am kicking off this campaign by talking to voters across the state,” said Udall.

“Coloradans know that it’s going to take hard work and real leadership to get our country back on track and moving forward again. From making Colorado a leader in the new energy economy, to fixing our broken health care system, to making our country safer with a stronger, smarter national security policy, I am ready to go to work with people in every part of this state to get things right.”

Schaffer debuts a television ad to build up his statewide name ID.

In the biographical spot, Schaffer recalled proposing to his wife on top of Pikes Peak — but the mountain depicted in the ad was Mount McKinley in Alaska.

The Republican candidate still hadn’t stated his platform or positions on the campaign Web site.

• May 9, 2008: Schaffer writes a letter to Udall asking for a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates. In 1858, U.S. Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas conducted seven debates in Illinois — directly questioning each other without a moderator.

“…Let’s start now by agreeing to a set of seven Lincoln-Douglas style debates around the state — one in every Congressional District — between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” suggested Schaffer, adding that the campaigns can work out the details.

“I think these debates could be the high-water mark of the campaign and perhaps renew a national and historic standard of campaign civility,” declared Schaffer.

Udall said he’d welcome a series of debates.

“I firmly believe that the debates we do should allow us to answer questions from the people of Colorado about the issues that are most important to them, but Bob’s proposed events do not.” Udall said. “I hope in the coming weeks that we can work together to develop a schedule of debates for the summer and fall that reaches every corner of the state and gives Coloradans an important role in the process.

“I’m pleased to see Bob taking an interest in discussing the issues with Coloradans. He could start by answering simple policy questions from reporters and putting information about his positions on his Web site,” Udall added.

• Oct. 10, 2008: By the time the KGMH Channel 7 debate rolls around, the candidates have participated in more than a dozen debates and forums. The rules, however, remain problematic.

Schaffer developed a penchant for hauling a cumbersome portfolio of position papers to debates. The Channel 7 debate between the U.S. Senate candidates was delayed by about 30 minutes because Schaffer demanded the use of notes.

Udall said that he signed debate rules indicating that the two men would not use props or notes. Schaffer denied any knowledge of that
ground rule.

Schaffer wouldn’t budge. Udall shrugged and said, “… I think this is a test of your wits. It’s a test of what you have in your head. If Bob needs to have a few notes with him, fine. But I’m here with an empty pad and let’s go. Let’s debate.”

• Oct. 13, 2008: During the Colorado State University-Pueblo debate between Schaffer and Udall, the Republican takes the high road, changing from a hawk to a dove as he interrupts Udall’s comments only once. He also agreed with his Democratic opponent on several issues affecting southern Colorado, as well as on the federal bailout of the financial industry. His conduct was gentlemanly throughout the remaining debates.

As for Schaffer’s proposed Lincoln-Douglas style debates — not one occurred in a public forum. It would have required an exchange between the candidates without a moderator. The closest the candidates came to that format was on Meet the Press — and that was because moderator Tom Brokaw was rendered speechless by Schaffer’s divisive and disruptive debate style.