Schaffer, Udall Senate race a study in partisan contrasts

Bob Schaffer speaks during a debate with Mark Udall in Denver. (Photo/Jason Kosena)
Bob Schaffer speaks during a debate with Mark Udall in Denver. (Photo/Jason Kosena)

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, the son of public school educators, has run for state or federal office almost continuously since 1989. U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, the son of a congressman, spent his 20s climbing the world’s highest peaks and working for Colorado Outward Bound before entering politics in 1996.


Schaffer, a Republican who represented Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District from 1997 to 2003, aggressively pushed a conservative agenda in the House. Udall, a Democrat representing the Second Congressional District since 1999, has focused on energy policy and worked to improve relationships between lawmakers from both parties. One of them will be Colorado’s next senator.

“They would be very different in terms of policy orientation and stylistically,” John Straayer, a Colorado State University political scientist, said about the two candidates trying to succeed Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., who is retiring at year’s end.

“Bob is more overtly partisan for one thing. He will be extraordinarily unrestrained and expressive in his views,” Straayer added. “Udall is more laid back, measured and gives you a little more sense of being relaxed.” In the multiple debates where Schaffer and Udall have squared off against each other, Schaffer normally is more combative, and Udall is content to calmly make points without getting too animated or raising his voice.

Schaffer, 46, is a movement conservative whose record was marked by his support for school choice, balanced budgets, tax cuts, Ukraine and guns. His tenure was also marred by a trip to the Mariana Islands, which was arranged by the law firm of now-jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and paid for by the Traditional Values Coalition.

As a congressman, Schaffer championed causes dear to conservatives: home schools, Roman Catholic schools and vouchers; he led the anti-gun control task force from his office; and he was Ukraine’s biggest booster in the House. He passed a resolution in 2000 that would have made “In God We Trust” the national motto.

To illustrate Schaffer’s aggressive nature, a former aide who spoke on the condition of anonymityrecalled that early in his career in the House, Schaffer called his staff into his office for a meeting.

A Message to Garcia,” he said, leaving his staff with no other information.

His aides eventually learned that “A Message to Garcia” is a century-old magazine story about an American naval officer who is ordered to deliver an oral message from President McKinley to a leader of the insurgent forces at the onset of the Spanish-American War.

The sailor — who in real life was an Army officer — accomplishes his mission and reports back to McKinley on the state of the rebel forces. The story, which was widely read at U.S. military academies, stresses the importance of being resourceful and getting the job done.

Schaffer, whose aides did not respond to repeated requests for comment, wanted his staff to get the message about his expectations. But the story’s message to get the job done without expressing any doubts or raising questions underscores his combative nature that he brought to the House and that defined his 2004 and 2008 campaigns for Senate.

In 2004 Schaffer lost a bloody GOP primary to Pete Coors to succeed ex-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo. Their primary battle was riddled with accusations of voter fraud at the state Republican Convention, where Schaffer tried to keep Coors off of the ballot. In the end Coors sought to appeal to more moderate Republicans, Schaffer ran to his right and some of their policy differences became personal.

Schaffer’s most important connections in the House were to the members of the Conservative Action Team, the CATs, who made it their mission to aggressively challenge the Clinton administration (the CAT is now the Republican Study Committee).

The CATs were among the few House Republicans who sometimes challenged GOP leaders and the Bush administration, particularly on the No Child Left Behind law, which they viewed as giving too much power to the federal government and spending too much money.

In the Senate, Schaffer likely would join forces with conservatives like Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.,and Jim DeMint, R-S.C. Coburn, especially, has become a force that all senators have to deal with because he is willing to tie up the Senate floor in knots to stop bills that he considers too expensive or too intrusive from moving ahead. Sen. Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., combined 35 bills into a $10 billion omnibus bill last summer to overcome the procedural road blocks Coburn threw up to stop the individual bills from advancing.

Mark Udall speaks during a debate with Bob Schaffer in Denver. (Photo/Jason Kosena)
Mark Udall speaks during a debate with Bob Schaffer in Denver. (Photo/Jason Kosena)

Udall, 58, by contrast, has regularly tacked to the center during his five terms in the House. He has become a leading expert on energy policy. He’s been an advocate for Colorado’s national parks and the state’s aerospace industry and serves on the Armed Services Committee.


On national issues, Udall has been a reliable Democratic vote. He opposed the war in Iraq and voted against the USA Patriot Act. But on some occasions, he has broken with his party. Last year he opposed a Democratic amendment to reduce spending on missile defense, he voted against a measure to withdraw from Iraq in six months, and he voted to spend an additional $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But to understand Udall it helps to understand his father, former Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., who played briefly for the Denver Nuggets, served in Congress for 30 years as a stalwart liberal and ran for president in 1976.

Morris Udall was a leading conservationist in the House who forged friendships across the aisle. (Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, often praises Mo Udall for mentoring him when McCain first arrived in Congress in 1982, and Tom Udall said he looks forward to working with McCain should he end up back in the Senate after Election Day.)

While his father focused on preserving public lands, Udall has taken a leading role on energy issues and he does not shy away from working with GOP lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tapped Udall and his cousin and another Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to craft a renewable energy package. They won a few Republican supporters, and the House last year approved a measure that would require utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources. But the measure failed by one vote in the Senate. Udall has said that one vote — which could be his — inspired him to run for Senate.

Udall has worked with other Republicans to push energy and environmental legislation.

Two of his mentors in the House were Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., a centrist Republican who is retiring at year’s end, and former Rep. Joel Heffley, R-Colo., onetime chairman of the House Ethics Committee. Udall said he is also close to the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Ike Skelton, a Democrat of Missouri.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., who is in a fight for her political life, has trumpeted an agreement she and Udall reached last year to expand the amount of land in Rocky Mountain National Park subject to federal protection. And he’s worked with other Republicans to convert the Rocky Mountain Arsenal to public use.

“My insight is to get to know everybody,” Udall said in an interview last week. “You never know when there’s an opportunity to work with them.”

Schaffer has attacked Udall as a “Boulder liberal,” but Udall is a more centrist Democrat, according to ratings from the National Journal, a nonpartisan weekly magazine that ranks members based on votes on key pieces of legislation. He was more conservative than 40 percent of his colleagues in the House.

But Udall’s preference to avoid in-your-face, confrontational politics can make him appear weak. In a debate on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Udall made few attempts to push back against Schaffer, who repeatedly interrupted and cut off Udall for much of the debate.

Likewise, Schaffer’s aggressiveness can backfire. He delayed taping for 30 minutes at a debate last week because he wanted to use notes he had brought along with him. Both campaigns had agreed not to use notes or props.

“This is a campaign for U.S. Senate, not a talent contest,” Schaffer told the KMGH reporter.


“I think this is fast paced. I think this is a test of your wits — it’s a test of what you have in your head,” Udall said in a measured but forceful tone. “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.”

If Schaffer joined forces that sometimes challenged GOP leaders and the White House, Udall cultivated Democratic leaders to help him climb politics’ greasy pole.

He is close to Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., one of the longest-serving Democrats in the House and a leading environmentalist who serves as a big-brother figure to Pelosi. Udall supported Pelosi as she rose from rank-and-file lawmaker to Democratic whip to minority leader.

After serving his first four terms in the minority — where Democrats had no power to set the agenda — Udall became chairman of the Science and Technology subcommittee that has oversight of NASA.

If elected, Udall would emphasize bipartisanship and energy policy in his first speech, which freshman senators spend weeks and sometimes months preparing, on the Senate floor.

“I would focus on moving past partisan differences to tackle these challenges we face, how we prepare our economy, how we responsibly exit Iraq, how can we come together to trigger the greatest energy revolution we have ever seen,” Udall said in an interview.

Neither Schaffer nor Udall would fashion himself as a centrist like the state’s senior senator, Democrat Ken Salazar, who is a frequent member of bipartisan groups. Salazar was a member of the “Gang of 14,” a group of seven Republicans and seven Democrats who banded together to stop a Senate vote against using filibusters to block judicial nominees.

“The real contrast would be with the way Ken Salazar plays things,” Bob Loevy, a Colorado College political scientist, said. “I would not expect that kind of behavior from, most of all, Schaffer, and, to a lesser extent, Udall.”

The race has become Udall’s to lose. He’s leading in the polls and he’s raising more money. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Udall leading, 54-40 percent, and a Suffolk University poll had Udall leading, 45 to 34. Both polls were taken in mid-October.

Udall raised nearly $10 million, while Schaffer raised $6.6 million through Sept. 30. Udall had $545,000 in cash on hand, and Schaffer had $2.73 million. Both have spent most of their war chest on television advertising.

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