Schaffer Versus Udall: Clash of Negatives

August 28, 2008

If this wasn’t a presidential election year, this one could be put on pay-per-view. Bob Schaffer, with oil and gasoline exuding from his pores, clashes with Mark Udall, spotted owls flying from his nostrils. One is a fascist. The other is a communist. They are both faithful, poison-tipped spears from the far right and left. Both of these fine demons from different hells will fight until humanity is annihilated just so they can get elected to the U.S. Senate.

In many senate campaigns, one can hardly tell the difference between Democrat and Republican. Ken Salazar demonstrates this all the time. As candidates dance to the middle to get elected, they hide from their extreme bases and their core beliefs. This will not be happening in the Bob Schaffer – Mark Udall Armageddon, I mean Election. Colorado will have a wild choice to make. Some will call this a Hobson’s Choice because of the extremes to choose from.

So far, the campaigns have spent over 8 million dollars in negative advertisements (Michael Riley – Denver Post, Public Ad Buy Information – 8/22/2008). By the last total on Friday, August 22nd, the anti-Schaffer forces have spent 2.68 million. The anti-Udall forces have spent 5.95 million. For a senate race in Colorado, that is a whole lot of character assassination!

The Schaffer camp wants to paint Mark Udall as a deep ecologist, willing to let American children starve rather than drill next to a couple of caribou and gulf water shrimp. They want to show him as a flip flopper and an absentee legislator.

The Udall camp wants to frame Bob Schaffer as a hired mercenary for the oil companies, hoisted up into this campaign to make sure that Colorado’s beauty is strip-mined of its shale and that Exxon-Mobile can ravage the earth with impunity.

Now these are 527 hench-groups, with some of their own agendas and freedom to be looser with the truth. However, the messages are not being renounced or forbidden. The war is on. Schaffer and Udall have already met in debate. Schaffer successfully cornered Udall to promise he would keep Congress in session until an energy bill regarding offshore drilling was ironed out. Udall’s plane was late getting back to Washington and he was blamed for ruining the lives of millions of people.

This is only the taste of things to come. Bob Shaffer is an admirable and terrifying debater. Many people in Colorado politics remember how he disemboweled a rather highly regarded but political inexperienced Pete Coors in a primary contest. T.R. Reid wrote it well how Schaffer outplayed his fellow Republican:

In a debate, the wily Schaffer demanded to know whether Coors agreed with Paul Martin on U.S.-Canadian trade. Coors fell right into the trap. “I’m not sure I know who Paul Martin is,” he said warily. Schaffer pounced: “A U.S. senator needs to know who the prime minister of Canada is.”

-T.R. Reid, The Washington Post, 7/25/2004

In a debate meant to address energy issues, Shaffer pulled a great debating trick over Mark Udall on the Iraq question. He quoted one of Udall’s pre-Iraq statements that was pro-invasion. The crowd exploded with cheers and boos. The anxious mediator implored the crowd to stand down. The war continued.

Udall gave an answer but Schaffer won this joust, knocking Udall off his horse. Udall’s campaign will be wise to avoid too many rounds with the debater from hell. He will have to rely on his personal appeal and on Schaffer’s attachment to oil companies. The environmental 527’s have done this well, highlighted, in my opinion by a well-designed commercial from fingerprintbob.com and the League of Conservation Voters.

This fight will be energetic because it plays to two sides of Colorado culture, both wanting more power than they have. Bob Shaffer represents true conservatives. Mark Udall represents true liberals. They have to get nasty to influence those in the middle. Believe it or not, most people in Colorado want energy independence and a protected environment. Most people in Colorado are more reasonable than the ads that have played and that will come. The winning candidate may very well be the one who convinces Colorado voters that the other is farthest to the extreme, whether it is to the left or the right. The war will continue.

Stephen Noriega

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