Races of the Week

Colorado’s U.S. Senate Race: Schaffer vs. Udall

Every election cycle, it seems, there is a U.S. Senate race that is a classic philosophical clash between a committed conservative and a passionate liberal. Certainly, most of the election battles of former Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) and his Democratic opponents fit that bill. The initial election of Republican Bill Armstrong in 1978 was also one of the memorable ideological shootouts. After unseating liberal Democratic Sen. Floyd Haskell in Colorado that year, Armstrong went on to become one of the Senate’s most principled, respected conservatives.

This year, Colorado is again the site of one of those races pundits will talk about for years to come. With two-term Republican Sen. Wayne Allard retiring, stalwart conservative former Rep. Bob Schaffer (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 99%) carries the Republican banner against arch-liberal Democratic Rep. Mark Udall (lifetime ACU rating: 8%).

At 46, former State Sen. and ’94 GOP lieutenant governor nominee Schaffer is well-known to conservatives in the Centennial State and nationwide. Whether the cause was tax cuts, making health insurance 100% deductible for the self-employed, abortion (with the sole exception of the life of the mother), or school vouchers, conservatives could bank on Schaffer’s either leading the charge or certainly being in the forefront of the battle.

Like friend and mentor Bill Armstrong, Schaffer honored his term-limit pledge and retired from the House in ’02 after three terms. After a brief career as an energy company executive, the battling conservative from Fort Collins is back. Schaffer’s no-holds-barred passion for conservative issues energized volunteers among the grass-roots social and economic conservatives and wrapped up the GOP Senate nod for him.

Because Coloradans elected Democrats Ken Salazar to the Senate in ’04 and Bill Ritter as governor in ’06, there has been much speculation in the press (and certainly hope among Democrats) that the 58-year-old Udall will be part of a Democratic “trifecta.” Moreover, as the son of legendary House Interior Committee Chairman Mo Udall of Arizona, Mark has access to funding from the left nationwide.

“There is an irrational exuberance about the Democratic results of the last two elections and how they impact on ’08,” observed Schaffer. “But while Ken Salazar ran on his law enforcement background and Bill Ritter was pro-life and pro-voucher, Mark Udall is none of the above. When you support the Black Caucus budget, oppose abolishing the estate tax, the marriage penalty and cuts in capital gains, when you co-sponsor creating a Department of Peace, oppose oil drilling in ANWR and anywhere else except in Cuban waters, and vote against a ban on partial-birth abortion, you are a very liberal Democrat. That’s Mark Udall.”
Yes, Bob Schaffer has issues and organization on his side. But it is a fact that Udall’s name and record will rake in liberal mega-dollars. That’s a big reason this is a showcase Senate race — and why Bob Schaffer should appeal to conservatives everywhere.

Indiana’s 9th District: Sodrel vs. Hill

“He has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.”

That line from Shakespeare’s Richard III can serve as a summary of the political situation in Indiana’s 9th District. In ’02, Democratic Rep. Baron Hill barely repelled a challenge by Republican Mike Sodrel, who then turned the tables and in ’04 narrowly became the district’s second Republican congressman in a century. In ’06, however, with voters angry at George W. Bush and disgraced Republican Representatives Bob Ney (Ohio) and Mark Foley (Fla.), Sodrel (lifetime ACU rating: 90%) lost to Hill (lifetime ACU rating: 26%).

Voters might well wonder whether, after three grueling battles against the same opponent and a fourth now underway, Sodrel has grown to dislike Hill.

“Our races have been more about issues,” says the former bus company owner, now 62 and a grandfather of seven. But then he adds: “After all of these campaigns, it’s hard to be completely objective.”

On the latest front in this bleeding war, energy and the economay dominate the action. Sodrel points out that Hill voted for the costly economic stimulus package favored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership and that he opposes drilling in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Reserve.

“He says ‘we can’t drill our way out’ of the gas crisis,” notes the conservative hopeful, but “I say we can — with greater exploration and use of our resources, here in America.” Sodrel’s credo, applied to his opposing the costly stimulus package and supporting making the Bush tax cuts permanent, is a simple one: “Trust the market place.”

But social issues and national politics also come into “Sodrel vs. Hill Four.” The GOP nominee drives home the fact that his opponent has not signed on to the legislation of Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood and that Hill made an early endorsement of Barack Obama for President even though Hillary Clinton rolled up nearly 66% of the primary vote in the 9th District.

The race in this Indiana district is unique in that not only do both major party candidates have voting records in Congress by which to judge them, but also both have been before the voters three previous times. This is a race, then, where every phone call to voters, every mailing, every drop of coffee at homes will count in what is guaranteed to be another close contest. In a nutshell, that’s why conservatives need to rally to Mike Sodrel.

Iowa’s 3rd District: Schmett vs. Boswell

At age 74 and after 12 years in Congress, Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell did not need the kind of challenge he got in his party’s primary this year in Iowa’s 3rd District, to which Boswell actually moved to run in ’02 after redistricting eliminated his former district and Republican Rep. Greg Ganske relinquished the 3rd to run for the Senate.

This year, former State Rep. and ’06 gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon challenged Boswell (lifetime ACU rating: 32%) from the far left. He charged that Boswell was a “Bush Dog” who had followed the President by voting for the resolution supporting the military strike that brought down Saddam Hussein. The congressman responded that Bush had misled him, that he would have voted differently knowing what he knows now. Boswell survived the challenge, but when 39% of his own party members vote against him, an incumbent goes into November clearly a bit wounded.

Now it’s conservatives’ turn at him, as Boswell faces a spirited challenge from attorney Kim Schmett, former Polk County (Des Moines) GOP chairman and onetime top aide to Ganske. In a district in which two-thirds of the votes come from 11 counties outside Des Moines, Boswell has never rolled up a big re-election vote since coming to the district seven years ago, getting 53% in ’02, 55% in ’04, and 53% in ’06.

Now he faces Schmett, an active and visible figure in the GOP for nearly three decades whose candidacy has energized conservative volunteers. Assisting the conservative hopeful is an A-Team of operatives: Gentry Collins, former executive director of the state GOP, Nicole Schlinger, former state party finance director, and his wife, Connie Schmett, who quarterbacked Mitt Romney’s presidential bid in Polk County.

“My opponent is limited on his vision,” declares Schmett. Echoing Ronald Reagan (whose first presidential campaigns Schmett worked on while at East Illinois University), the conservative hopeful runs on an agenda of local control of education, ending the estate tax, and making the Bush tax cuts permanent.

“Quite honestly, there isn’t a tax on the books — capital gains, the Alternative Minimum Tax — that I wouldn’t consider getting rid of,” says Schmett.

All very refreshing for conservatives, certainly, but they need to remember that running against an opponent who votes the union line and can count on Big Labor for ample campaign funding, Kim Schmett needs money from conservatives — his people.