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Colorado Races

Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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Colorado (Open Seat)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


October 17, 2008 Update:

We are beginning to feel that whenever we go to update a Senate race in this crazy month of October, the theme is the same for many of them: a Republican seat is being seriously challenged by a Democrat who’s numbers are getting inflated by the economic crisis and a general disregard for Republicans during this election cycle. The same is beginning to hold true in the race to replace retiring Sen. Wayne Allard, as “Boulder Liberal” Mark Udall has seen a bump in the polls and has a clear, if not dominant, lead over former Rep. Bob Schaffer. The GOP has tried to attach the aforementioned negative moniker to Udall in an attempt to make him seem too leftist for the traditionally conservative Colorado electorate, but the Democratic gubernatorial victory in 2006 appears to have been the prologue to a shift towards the Centennial State becoming decidedly purple (another refrain we keep seeming to mention on more than one occasion). Udall’s counter claim that Schaffer is too Conservative for Colorado has seemed to stick more in this election year, oddly enough. Make no mistake about it: Mark appears to be in for a much tighter race than the one cousin Tom is experiencing just south of him in New Mexico. But Schaffer’s numbers are trending downward just like fellow Republicans across the country, and he will have to try and turn things around to avoid remaining a Crystal Ball theme and variations all the way to defeat on November 4th.

June 19, 2008 Update:

Although it’s often overlooked in these days of highly paid consultants and million dollar ad buys, the most important part of a campaign is the message. The message permeates all other aspects of the campaign and establishes a narrative for the election that voters can assimilate. In Colorado’s Senate race, both candidates are already hard at work in the battle of messaging.

For Democrat Mark Udall, the trick will be trying to shed the “Boulder liberal” moniker that comes with his left-leaning district and establish himself as a credible statewide candidate for all Coloradans. Surprisingly, Udall is making his pitch on, of all things, national security and military issues. He’s a member of the House Armed Services Committee and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, but his first two television ads stress his resolve in fighting terrorism and maintaining an effective military. For a liberal Democrat, such an approach seems odd, but with the strong contingent of Air Force families in traditionally Republican Colorado Springs, it just might work this time.

Meanwhile, Bob Schaffer realizes that the traditional Republican playbook won’t apply to this cycle. Schaffer’s avoided the hot-button social issues of past Colorado elections and instead focused on fiscal conservatism and cutting wasteful spending. Schaffer’s biggest messaging vulnerability on the environment. Already he’s had to respond to independent attack ads by airing ads highlighting his conservation voting record. If liberal groups or the Udall campaign can turn Schaffer into “Big Oil Bob,” he’ll face the wrath of Colorado’s many environmentally-conscious voters.

It’s too early to tell which candidate’s narrative has more appeal to Colorado voters, but one thing is clear. The more money you have, the louder your message, and for now, Udall has a clear advantage on the financial front.

May 28, 2008 Update:

The race for retiring Republican Wayne Allard’s seat is still as close as ever. Democrat Mark Udall retains slim three- to five-point leads over Republican Bob Schaffer in recent polling, with both candidates hugging approval ratings in the upper 40s. With such razor-thin margins, every factor gets magnified in importance: the general electoral climate for the 2008 cycle, the top-of-the-ticket nominee for each party, and so on. One key measure that tips this race in Udall’s favor is fundraising. Udall has been able to nearly double-up Schaffer in the funds race, leaving Udall with $2 million more cash on hand despite outspending Schaffer 2-to-1. If Udall’s fiscal success continues, he and his campaign should be able to outmaneuver Schaffer in advertising and other publicity. From what we’ve seen, this Rocky Mountain race leans Democratic.

March 3, 2008 Update:

The race for Colorado’s open Senate seat remains extremely close. Recent polls show Republican Bob Schaffer holding a statistically insignificant single-point lead over Democratic Congressman Mark Udall, 44-43. The margin hasn’t changed since November 2007, which points to this race continuing to be very tight all the way to the wire. In such a closely contested race, one of the keys to this seat could be who ends up being the presidential candidate for each party.

For the Republicans, the nominee will clearly be John McCain, which actually presents something of a problem for Schaffer. Udall and McCain have voted very similarly in Washington over the years, especially on hot-button issues like stem cell research, immigration, and same-sex marriage. The similarity between their two records will limit how Schaffer can really go after Udall. On the other side, the Clinton/Obama dynamic could heavily impact voters in Colorado. Udall is getting support from 43 percent of Colorado’s unaffiliated voters. If Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, his ability to appeal to independents could swing things in Udall’s favor; conversely, the polarizing nature of Hillary Clinton as a candidate could drive many of those voters into Schaffer’s camp.

With all of the factors acting to balance the two candidates out, there’s one thing that may give Udall a slight advantage: his name. The Udalls are known as the ”Kennedys of the West”; Mark’s father Mo was a long-time Congressman from Arizona, Tom Udall (Mark’s first cousin) is currently a Congressman and Senate candidate in New Mexico, and another cousin, Gordon Smith, sits as a Senator from Oregon. If everything else is a wash, the political connections of his family ties could give Udall the slightest of edges in November’s election.

December 14, 2007 Update:

When Republican Wayne Allard (R) announced his retirement after two terms, the assumption is that this Purple state might well lean Democratic in 2008, just as it did in 2006 when it elected a new Democratic Governor (Bill Ritter) in a landslide. Perhaps that will prove true, and the early polls show the Democratic candidate, Congressman Mark Udall, out in front of the GOP candidate, former Congressman Bob Schaffer (who had lost the GOP Senate primary in 2004 to Pete Coors, who in turn lost to now-Democratic Senator Ken Salazar). Republicans say that Hillary Clinton is most unlikely to carry Colorado, and that her nomination will give them a chance to turn the Senate battle around. Maybe so, but for right now, the justifiable rating is LEANS DEMOCRATIC.


Background

The Centennial State promises one of the most intriguing races of the 2008 Senate cycle. Republican Wayne Allard is living up to his 1996 promise of a two-term cap and retiring after his current term expires. His retirement sets up a showdown, likely between Mark Udall and Bob Schaffer.

Udall, the Democratic Representative from the 2nd District, has irked some national Dems over
his support for the Iraq War spending bill that passed in May 2007, a vote almost certainly made with an eye toward the Senate campaign when one considers the liberal leanings of his Boulder-area constituents. Udall raised over $1 million in the second quarter of 2007, bringing his cash-on-hand to $2.5 million.

Here’s a state where the identity of the Democratic presidential nominee really matters. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee then Udall may have to keep her at arm’s length in order to win. Another Democrat might run more strongly in Colorado, thus increasing Udall’s chances.

Schaffer is the former Republican Representative from Colorado’s 4th District, in the eastern part of the state. Schaffer’s staunch conservatism has some GOPers worried about his ability to appeal on a statewide basis, and moderate Republican Josh Penry of the state Senate has been pushed to challenge Schaffer in the primary; Penry has turned away all his Republican suitors thus far.

With Udall’s impressive fundraising in the past 3 months, this seat could become a pick-up for the Dems. Ken Salazar pushed past his Republican opponent by 4 points in 2004, and President Bush has consistently polled well below 40%. If the Republicans go to a primary, with the in-fighting and spending that comes with it, Udall’s chances will go from good to great.

Candidates

Mark Udall – Democrat – current Congressman
Website

Bob Schaffer – Republican – former Congressman
Website