Udall picks up Schaffer's debate gauntlet

Democrat gives as good as he gets

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The shoe, as they say, wound up on the other foot this week when Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Mark Udall went to war against Republican candidate Bob Schaffer during a half-hour-long taping of Colorado 2031, to be aired at 10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3, on Fox 31.

Udall, who had played the nice-guy role in the first Senate debate two weeks earlier, took every opportunity to bash Schaffer’s positions, record and connections. From almost the very start of the forum, Udall, a five-term congressman from Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, attacked Schaffer and other Republicans, accusing them of holding up renewable energy tax credits in the Senate, and went on to paint Schaffer as part of a Republican regime that’s overly friendly with oil companies.

“You can’t get from here to there with an oil executive,” Udall said of Schaffer, who is a former executive with Aspect Energy. “We’ve had President Bush, Vice President Cheney, we’ve had Congressman Schaffer, all in the oil industry. We need a broader, comprehensive energy policy. We need to throw the kitchen sink at this.”

Schaffer, a former congressman from Colorado’s 4th Congressional District and a political veteran, didn’t back down for an instant. The exchange was marked by interjections and counter-arguments, with both candidates pointing fingers and accusing the other of lying.

It looked, however, almost like role reversal compared to the first Schaffer-Udall debate, when Schaffer spent much of his time portraying Udall as a do-nothing Democrat and Udall kept reiterating the need for bipartisan action instead of attack-style politics.

“This kind of sniping is why most people are fed up with Washington. It’s why the approval rating of Congress is so low right now,” Schaffer said Monday after Udall landed his first blow.

Both candidates kept returning to the issue of energy, and both repeatedly described themselves as seriously interested in renewable energy investment, as well as other alternative forms, such as nuclear. One of the clearest differences between the two exemplified an emerging national division between Republicans and Democrats.

Schaffer kept plugging on behalf of more offshore drilling, while Udall refused to embrace it, saying such a move would do nothing to lower gas prices.

Then, when moderator and Channel 31 anchor Ron Zappolo asked if the two shared any common ground concerning the war in Iraq, Udall criticized Schaffer for visiting Iraq only once, as part of a delegation that laid the groundwork for an oil deal between Aspect Energy and the Kurdish Regional Government.

“(Schaffer) went to northern Iraq and cut a deal with the Kurds against the express wishes of our State Department,” Udall charged.

“That’s not true at all Mark,” Schaffer immediately shot back. “You are wrong again, Mark.”

The former congressman explained after the taping that his role in Kurdistan was that of a fact-finder, and said that the actual negotiations between Aspect and the KRG came much later, after his involvement was finished.

The Republican also said Udall had misrepresented his views by asserting that he favored an “open-ended” commitment in Iraq. Rather, Schaffer said, he wants troops to remain only until Iraq’s economy and military prove self-sustaining.

Udall favors a timetable similar to the one laid out by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, which calls for a phased drawdown of troops over a 16-month period.

The focus of the dispute returned to the energy issue as Schaffer expanded on his pro-renewable-energy stance.

“I am for promoting this type of technology, and always have been, and I think it’s regrettable that the partisan bickering in Washington is causing that tax credit bill to possibly be lost,” Schaffer said.

Udall returned, “That’s outrageous, as you know. You came to this late. You’re a convert. I’m glad you’re in the parade. You mentioned renewable energy once in your entire career in the Congress.”

Schaffer denied that charge, asserting that he had discussed renewable energy with his constituents countless times while campaigning. Udall said his source was the Congressional Record, which attributes the words “renewable resources” to Schaffer only once, in 1998.

Schaffer struck a blow of his own, however, when he got Udall to agree to refuse to vote for a resolution to recess the current Congress this week because proposed legislation to deliver tax credits for renewable energy development hadn’t yet been passed both houses.

The Schaffer camp was gleeful when, on Wednesday, two days after the debate taping, Udall missed the vote on the recess resolution and it was approved by a single vote, 213 to 212.

Dick Wadhams, Schaffer’s campaign manager, had predicted Monday that Udall wouldn’t live up to his pledge, and charged Wednesday that Udall had “reneged” on his agreement.

“Apparently it wasn’t a priority for Boulder liberal Udall to show up for the job he was elected to do this week before Congress goes on a monthlong vacation,” Wadhams said.

Udall campaign press secretary Tara Trujillo said her boss had made every effort to be present for the vote, having left his home at 5:45 a.m. to catch a flight to the Capitol, but the vote was called just as Udall’s plane was touching down at Dulles
International Airport.

“He’s extremely upset that he missed this vote,” Trujillo said, and noted that Udall had requested the vote be held until he arrived.

Additionally, he sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi voicing his dismay over the vote and stating, for the record, that he would have voted against the recess “Because I think we should not adjourn or recess this week until completing action on legislation to revise our national energy policies — something that has not yet occurred.”

The Fox 31 debate also brought finger-pointing over two proposed renewable energy tax credit bills, with Schaffer blaming Udall for being partly responsible for a Republican bill stalling in the House and Udall charging that Republicans were holding up an omnibus measure in the Senate.

Trujillo and other Udall staffers also kept busy in the days following the debate taping, seeking holes and inconsistencies in Schaffer’s televised arguments. They began issuing what they called “Debate doubletakes,” charging that Schaffer was twisting his own record and denying past statements. For one thing, they said Schaffer lied when he charged that Udall voted against a bill to renew a renewable energy tax credit. Udall staffers pointed out that their boss missed the vote, taken in 2004, because he was on his way to Iraq to visit troops stationed there.

The Schaffer camp then made something of a misstep by issuing a press release concerning the same vote and the same bill, House Resolution 1308, in which the American Wind Energy Association thanked a lengthy list of the bill’s co-sponsors, including Udall.

Udall and Schaffer also sparred Monday on campaign finance reform and 527s —independent political action committees that can accept unlimited donations and were created by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill of 2002. Udall painted the groups, which have burned through millions of dollars during recent Colorado campaigns, as detrimental to the political system since they typically use spin and negative politics to influence elections, while Schaffer proudly defended them as agents of political free speech.

The debate came at a time when polls show Schaffer creeping up on Udall. At one point, Udall had enjoyed a double-digit lead, which, according to several polling institutions, has eroded to either a dead heat or a slim lead for Udall — so slim it would fall within the margin of error. Part of the reason for the slip, many pundits have speculated, is the popular Republican position on domestic drilling.

Udall downplayed the numbers on Monday, however, insisting that both sides have always expected the race to be a squeaker.

“It’ll go right down to the wire,” Udall said during the taping.

He added afterwards, “I think the people of Colorado understand that it takes everything (on energy). There’s not a silver bullet, but there’s silver buckshot.”

Schaffer, however, derided Udall’s position as economically ignorant.

“You’ve seen another increase in oil prices just today, so the notion that bold pronouncements by policymakers have no effect on the marketplace is a belief held only by people who don’t understand the marketplace.

“And Mark just announced that he’s one of those,” Schaffer said. “This is why it makes sense to send somebody who has business sense to Washington.”

The debate was preceded by almost two hours of slogan-chanting and political competition on the lawn outside Fox 31 studios at Speer Boulevard and Sherman Street. Roughly a hundred activists braved 90-degree heat and waved signs for their candidates, and the two camps fed off of each other, with each trying desperately to outdo the other in ferocity.

“When I say senator, you say Udall!” hollered one Udall organizer with a megaphone, but when the chant began, Schaffer supporters timed their rebuttal shout of “U-turn!” so that the emerging yell sounded like “Senator U-turn Udall!”

Schaffer arrived at the studio just after 1 p.m., and his supporters immediately took up the cry, “Beat him again, Bob!”

“We expect another whipping,” said Arapahoe County Republican Lynne Cottrell.

The Udall camp was just as emphatic, however. Udall backer Cris Duran, of Denver, commented, “Mark will be great. He’ll do the same as last time, in terms of talking about the issues without resorting to distortion and name-calling, as Bob Schaffer did.”

Then, when Udall arrived about 30 minutes later, he was swarmed by supporters and opponents alike, with dozens of frenetic Coloradans shouting either praise or blame. When he finally made it through the studio’s front doors, both camps cheered victoriously, almost strangely unified in their happiness that, with the appearance of Udall, the games could begin.