Tough Race In Colorado For Open Senate Seat

In the tight race for the open U.S. Senate seat in Colorado, Democratic Rep. Mark Udall faces-off against former GOP Rep. Bob Schaffer. Michael Riley, a reporter for the Denver Post, says Udall is being labeled a "Boulder liberal" and Schaffer is being called "Big Oil Bob."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now we're going to continue our weeklong look at tight Senate races. Colorado has an open seat since Republican Wayne Allard is retiring, and there's a competitive race to replace him. The Republican candidate is Bob Schaffer, a former congressman. He is running against a current congressman, Democrat Mark Udall, who is son of the longtime congressman Mo Udall. And his cousin Tom Udall is also running for the Senate in neighboring New Mexico. Got that straight?

Colorado is one of several traditionally Republican-leaning states in the West where Democrats think they can make inroads in November. Here to talk about the race is Michael Riley, reporter with the Denver Post. Welcome.

Mr. MICHAEL RILEY (Reporter, Denver Post): Nice to be here.

BLOCK: And we've heard this charge a lot in this race - that Mark Udall is a Boulder Liberal. Translate.

Mr. RILEY: Well, in Colorado, Boulder is as left as you can get. He's a congressman whose district includes Boulder, and there are a lot of people in rural counties and certain areas of Colorado who typically think of Boulder as very hippish and left-wing, and to the extent you can tie Mark Udall to that image, then you've done half your battle for you if you're Republican.

BLOCK: And he counters that by saying, I'm bipartisan. I've worked with some of the most conservative Republicans in Congress.

Mr. RILEY: Absolutely. And he's been in the Congress for 10 years and he started out the 10 years as probably more liberal in terms of his voting record than he is now. He's done a pretty good job of trying to insulate himself against particularly some of these issues. He's been to Iraq a couple of times. He's starting to think in terms of issues that make him more of a mainstream candidate in the Colorado context.

BLOCK: Well, as Mark Udall is branded as a Boulder Liberal, is there a shorthand countercharge for his opponent, Bob Schaffer?

Mr. RILEY: Well, Big Oil Bob is the one that is the most tossed around now. Bob Schaffer was in Congress for three terms. He actually took a term limit pledge and kept his promise. But after he got out, he started to work for an energy company. He does mostly natural gas, although he talks a lot about the one or two projects that it's done in renewable energy now because it's not necessarily the best thing to be associated with an oil company at this point. Although it's playing - the energy issue is playing in the race for the Republicans at least temporarily.

BLOCK: We have a couple of ads here. And let's listen to one of them. This is an ad from the Democrat, Mark Udall, and it touches on this issue that you've been mentioning.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Representative MARK UDALL (Democrat, Boulder, Colorado): Spending on your own, that's just the Colorado way. It's what America's got to do with our energy policy, which is why I've led Republicans and Democrats to end our addiction to foreign oil, develop renewable fuels, and provide tax incentives to go to Colorado's new energy economy.

BLOCK: Do you think energy has become the big issue in this race?

Mr. RILEY: Surprisingly, it probably has. Mark Udall has - one of his most consistent themes in his local career has been a leader on the issue of renewable energy. And I think the Democrats thought they had that issue wrapped up. But suddenly, the Republicans have gone on the offensive on the energy issue and they're painting Udall as part of a group of obstructionist Democrats who don't want to drill offshore, who don't want to drill in ANWAR Alaska. And in a period of about three weeks, Udall dropped about 10 points in the polls and the race is now even. And largely, it appears that the energy issue may be the key.

BLOCK: Let's listen to an ad from the Republican, Bob Schaffer.

(Soundbite of Bob Schaffer's Political Ad)

Mr. BOB SCHAFFER (Republican Senate Candidate, Colorado): I'm Bob Schaffer, candidate for the U.S. Senate. Colorado is my life. I proposed to Maureen on top of Pikes Peak. We've raised our five kids in Fort Collins. One's at the academy, two in ROTC, and two are in grade school.

BLOCK: Seems like a pretty safe biographical ad, but he got into some trouble with this one.

Mr. RILEY: He did. It was supposed to be a safe biographical ad, touting his ties to the region. The problem is that Pikes Peak, which was the mountain he proposed to his wife on, there was an image of a mountain that plays throughout the ad and it didn't turn out to be Pikes Peak, it turned out to be Mt. McKinley in Alaska.

BLOCK: Got a little bit farther away.

Mr. RILEY: Yeah. A little bit farther away.

BLOCK: And I think they replaced the footage in the ad, isn't that right?

Mr. RILEY: That's right.

BLOCK: With Pikes Peak?

Mr. RILEY: That's right. They, in fact, changed the visuals. But it was one of the few issues early on that television news picked up on, and it was pretty embarrassing.

BLOCK: What impact, if any, can you tell is the national presidential race having on the Senate race in Colorado?

Mr. RILEY: It could potentially have a huge impact. And Colorado, for the first time in a long time, is the swing state in a presidential race, which means that there's going to be a huge amount of ground game going on by both candidates. Barack Obama's going to open up offices all over the state, including some in relatively conservative areas. And their conventional wisdom is that to the extent that Obama is a guy who knows how to do a ground game, it's probably going to help the Democrats.

BLOCK: Michael Riley is a reporter with the Denver Post. Michael, thanks so much.

Mr. RILEY: You're welcome.

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