Colorado Races Still in Republican Reach

Democrats are feeling confident in Colorado. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) will reportedly stop spending on television ads in the state in support of Senate candidate Mark Udall because they believe Udall “is in a commanding position to win this race” against former Congressman Bob Schaffer, although a Udall spokesperson said the move “doesn’t help.”

It’s an interesting turn of events from the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (RSCC) last week deciding, then un-deciding, to pull out of Colorado after poll numbers tightened up to within the margin of error. On Tuesday, RSCC Chairman John Ensign said about their commitment to supporting Schaffer, “Basically, that’s a very winnable race. It’s a battleground in the presidential race and we’re going to be there until the end.”

Although Colorado voted for George Bush in 2000 and 2004, the electoral and demographic trends in the state are clearly blue as many Colorado Republicans switched to unaffiliated registration and people from both coasts move in, bringing their left-leaning tendencies to the heart of the libertarian/conservative West. As of September 2, 2008, there were roughly 955,000 registered Democrats, 1,029,000 registered Republicans, and a remarkable 1,023,000 registered independent voters in the state. In just over four years, Democratic registration has increased almost 12 percent and independent registration by over 12 percent while Republican registration has dropped 1.5 percent.

In 2004, Democrat brothers Ken and John Salazar won a Senate seat and House seat, respectively, both held by Republicans in the prior term. Also in 2004, Democrats took control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1960, and they took complete control of state government with the election of Democrat Bill Ritter as governor in 2006.

No wonder the donkeys feel like they’re kicking the elephants around.

But should Mark Udall feel as confident as the DSCC move implies? A recent Rasmussen poll showed Udall up by 7 points, not surprisingly in between a poll by Schaffer’s campaign showing Udall up by 5 and a poll by the DSCC showing a 12-point Udall lead.

Going into the final week of the race, with the DSCC pulling out of the state, Udall could be at a financial disadvantage. In their Federal Election Commission report for the third quarter, the Udall campaign reported only $545,963 cash on hand whereas the Schaffer campaign reported $2,733,943 in the bank. Still, the difference is probably not as large as it seems because the Udall campaign likely pre-bought their media and will not need much cash in reserves.

According to Schaffer campaign head Dick Wadhams in a brief interview for HUMAN EVENTS, “the Schaffer campaign has funded all its media buys — TV, radio, and mail — through the election without having to cut back.”

Wadhams noted that the Udall campaign “spent more money than any other Senate campaign in America in the third quarter, over $6 million.” When asked about the DSCC’s pulling out of Colorado, Mr. Wadhams replied “They are cocky and arrogant; they have been that way this whole campaign. But, I don’t think the Udall campaign believes they have this put to bed.”

[The Udall campaign did not return requests for comment.]

I was also able to speak with Bob Schaffer about the current situation. Here is some of that discussion:

RK: What do you make of the DSCC’s apparent confidence in Udall’s victory?

Schaffer: Clearly, I’m the underdog in this race. But, the reality is that Democrats are confident in polling numbers even though they are using pollsters who are notoriously over-optimistic. We’re seeing different numbers that show this race much closer and with a relatively large number of respondents who are still undecided.

RK: Separate from the DSCC news, how is the campaign going?

Schaffer: The response we’re getting on the campaign trail is very encouraging, with large and enthusiastic crowds at our events, much like the enthusiasm we just saw for Sarah Palin’s recent events in Colorado. Our phone banking is contacting tens of thousands of voters every night. The response is extraordinarily encouraging. We even run across surprisingly large numbers of voters who identify themselves as “supporting Obama and Schaffer.”

RK: Let’s talk about issues for a moment, or rather the issue — the economy. What do you think is the key point of difference between you and Mark Udall regarding the economy?

Schaffer: Coloradans intuitively know that this economy can not survive the kinds of tax increases that Udall has supported historically and has promised throughout the course of this campaign.

Not surprisingly, Dick Wadhams wasn’t shy in offering an opinion on issues, broadly speaking:

“Mark Udall continues to run away from his Boulder liberal record. ‘Boulder liberal’ is not just a moniker — it’s a perfect description of who he is and what he stands for. He’s wrapping himself in a cloak of bipartisanship because he knows that if he ran as what he is, he couldn’t win.”

Wadhams isn’t alone among Republican operatives in this view. One party insider I spoke with suggested that Udall is “harnessing the people’s anger about the economy and the bailout, making people feel like he’s one of them. But Udall never talks about his record — a record which shows he’s not one of them. Instead he’s very good at using whatever poll-tested language is working this month.”

The other competitive Congressional race in Colorado this year is the 4th Congressional District’s contest between incumbent Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave and Democratic challenger Betsy Markey, a former staffer to Colorado’s soon-to-be-senior Senator, Ken Salazar.

There has been very little public polling data, though private polls have shown the race neck-and-neck, usually with a very small Markey advantage. However, Musgrave has a history of closing strong and her substantial cash on hand lead over Markey may prove critical in the campaign’s final days with Musgrave reporting nearly $800,000 to Markey’s $382,000 as of September 30th.

Bob Schaffer represented the 4th CD when he served in Congress from 1997-2002, before honoring a self-imposed 3-term limit. He noted a recent comment by Senator Salazar calling Congresswoman Musgrave an “agent of hate” in response to ads attacking Markey for the current controversy in the district. “Markey’s being a field rep for a US Senator while her husband’s company is getting federal contracts is raising eyebrows of many Coloradans. Whether legal or not, people are concerned about the appearance of impropriety.”

For good or bad, Colorado is a focus of much political attention, energy, and money in 2008, with it being a critical state not just for John McCain’s presidential aspirations. It could also represent the key to whether the Democrats get a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate…an outcome which would give a Democratic president the power to inflict tremendous damage on the nation.

The last time either party had 60 seats or more in the Senate was 1977-1979, during the Carter presidency. Given Barack Obama’s Carter-like tendencies (support for high taxes, disdain for the well-off, and the belief that Middle Eastern terrorists are simply misunderstood), maybe the vision of a second Carter administration will sway some undecided voters toward Schaffer, if only to ensure the slightest hint of restraint on an otherwise unfettered Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi.