By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
PUEBLO — Republican Bob Schaffer transformed from a hawk into a dove for this U.S. Senate debate against Democratic Congressman Mark Udall, and — although he has lampooned Udall for supporting a bill to form a department of peace years ago — Schaffer sounded a bit like a flower child himself.
The former congressman said he had been mischaracterized as being combative in a dozen previous debates with Udall in Colorado and on Meet the Press in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Senate candidates, former Republican Congressman Bob Schaffer and Democratic Congressman Mark Udall, check out the audience at the start of the debate in Pueblo.
“I never attacked Udall,” Schaffer insisted. “He has been the most aggressive in every debate.”
Udall, however, said he noticed a significant change in Schaffer’s demeanor.
“I was able to finish my answers this time,” he said with a wry grin.
Schaffer interrupted Udall only once during the Oct. 13 debate in Hoag Recital Hall at Colorado State University–Pueblo, injecting the familiar protest, “That’s not true!”
The format, which didn’t allow rebuttals, also contributed to a more subdued Schaffer.
The two replayed disagreements over the war in Iraq, the economic crisis and development strategies to achieve energy independence. Unexpected were their agreements on issues concerning Southern Colorado.
Schaffer concurred with Udall’s reservations about a proposed water delivery system from Pueblo to Colorado Springs and the expansion of Fort Carson into Piñon Canyon.
Schaffer and Udall said they do not favor expanding Fort Carson’s 238,000-acre training site in Piñon Canyon by an additional 418,000 acres without further study and a compelling reason from the Army.
“I will never turn my back on Fort Carson,” said Schaffer. “…I do not think Fort Carson has made the case for expansion in Piñon Canyon.”
Both candidates declared their opposition to the Army using eminent domain powers to obtain property for the expansion.
Last year, former 5th Congressional District Rep. Ken Kramer told The Colorado Statesman that if opposition was too great, the Army might choose to expand a training site in another state.
Fort Carson is the largest employer in the Pikes Peak region, and such a move would compound El Paso County’s economic problems.
Water has escalated into a tug-of-war issue between Pueblo and Colorado Springs in recent years. Colorado Springs owns water rights, but needs to implement the Southern Delivery System to pipe the water from the Arkansas River and Pueblo Reservoir by 2012. More assessment studies will make it difficult to meet that deadline.
Both Schaffer and Udall opposed the water delivery system without further environmental studies. Of greater concern than the pipeline to Colorado Springs, is the capacity of Fountain Creek to handle the increased return water flow to Pueblo. There has been a history of contamination and erosion problems in Fountain Creek from Colorado Springs.
A couple of days before the debate, Schaffer told a Colorado Springs Gazette reporter that he was resisting pressure to take a side on these divisive issues.
“…I get that in Colorado Springs. I get it in Pueblo. I get it down in the Arkansas Valley. And I’m not going to do what King Solomon refused to do, which was split a baby in order to settle an argument,” Schaffer said.
The Republican candidate took a stronger position during the debate in Pueblo. Upping the demand for a study, Schaffer also called for Colorado Springs to ante up “millions of dollars” to ensure that the increased water flow wouldn’t have a negative impact on Fountain Creek.
Udall reminded listeners of his knowledge of Colorado water projects, including the Arkansas Valley Conduit pipeline. Schaffer conceded that his knowledge of water issues was limited to what he learned representing the 4th Congressional District for three terms, but pledged to broaden his knowledge to encompass the entire state.
Springs sends two busloads of Schaffer supporters
The debate was televised in the Pueblo area, but the audience of more than 300 people included two busloads of Republicans from Colorado Springs.
Schaffer’s views sounded as if they might have been geared to please Pueblo County at the risk of alienating some voters in Republican-dominated El Paso County.
Democratic strategy holds that Udall needs to capture 39 percent of El Paso County’s more than 365,000 votes — roughly the same percentage that delivered statewide wins to Democrats Governor Bill Ritter in 2006 and Senator Ken Salazar in 2004.
In El Paso County, about 45 percent of voters are registered as Republicans. Of the more than 100,000 registered voters in Pueblo County, 47 percent are registered as Democrats.
Udall again stated his opposition to the war in Iraq. Schaffer declared the war was necessary to rid the world of Saddam Hussein.
“Winning is better than losing. Victory is better than surrender,” said Schaffer.
“We’ve already won the war in Iraq. Now it’s time for the Iraqis to win the peace,” countered Udall.
Schaffer blamed the current financial upheaval on the Community Reinvestment Act, which passed under President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and encouraged commercial banks and savings associations to meet the needs of all borrowers — including those with low or moderate incomes.
Udall blamed the economic decline on the past eight years of the Bush administration for giving tax cuts to corporations that transferred jobs overseas, creating a massive deficit, deregulating investment banks and failing to oversee subprime mortgages.
Schaffer did not support the $700 billion rescue package. Udall voted against it.
Udall painted Schaffer as being too cozy with the oil industry. He cited Schaffer’s executive stint with Aspect Energy International LLC, which cut a deal with the Kurdish regional government, counter to U.S. State Department policy, which urges negotiations through Iraq’s central government.
Schaffer denied involvement in the oil negotiations.
“I feel it’s incendiary to make those misrepresentations,” declared Schaffer. “I regret that in a campaign for the U.S. Senate that that becomes a part of the strategy… to try to propel oneself into the United States Congress.”
The candidates passed up the chance to zing each other in answering the final question: What would each expect if his opponent wins the election?
Was Schaffer influenced by McCain’s call for civility?
After a series of verbal knockout forums, it appeared in this debate that Schaffer had taken a cue from Republican Senator John McCain’s refusal to wage character attacks against Democratic Senator Barack Obama in the presidential race.
McCain’s campaign ratcheted down the vociferous rhetoric because polls indicate the negativism repels undecided voters — the slim margin needed to capture victory during the waning days before the election.
Schaffer denied softening his debate style. Others, however, noticed the change. His kinder, gentler manner didn’t square with the political advice Schaffer campaign manager and state GOP chair Dick Wadhams recently offered to McCain.
In an article about McCain’s campaign strategy, The New York Times reported opinions from several high profile Republicans, including Wadhams.
“But no subject has more divided Republicans than the one that has been a matter of disagreement in the McCain camp: how directly to invoke Mr. Obama’s connection to his controversial former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., and William Ayers, a member of the Weather Underground who has had a passing association with Mr. Obama over the years,” stated the Oct. 12 Times article.
“In Colorado, a traditionally Republican state that Mr. McCain is struggling to keep in his column, the party chairman, Dick Wadhams, urged Mr. McCain to hit the issue hard, arguing that it was fair game and could be highly effective in raising questions about Mr. Obama in the final weeks of the campaign,” continued the article.
“I think those are legitimate insights into who Senator Obama is. I do not think it is irrelevant in this election,” Wadhams told the newspaper.
The news article was cited on Face the Nation, when host Bob Schieffer posed a question to Ritter about the presidential race in this swing state.
“The Republican chair, I understand it, Dick Wah… Wad – hums says that Senator McCain shouldn’t let up on Barack Obama and his associations with people like Reverand Wright and this fellow Ayers, the anti-Vietnam war protester,” said Schieffer. “What’s your take?”
Ritter replied glibly, “I think that would be typical of Dick Wadhams to think that type of negative campaign would sit well.”
Wadhams laughed heartily over his name being mispronounced by Schieffer as well as his national notoriety being furthered by Ritter.
“I’m going to send Ritter a thank you note,” Wadhams said gleefully. “It was great! He couldn’t have done a better favor for me!”