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Colorado awash in attack ads

M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado

Colorado’s new state motto could be “Hide the remote.”

The bombardment of political attack ads is intensifying in the closing weeks of the election campaign, and in the fiercely contested U.S. Senate race it’s forcing the two major party candidates to change the way they face audiences on the stump.

Democratic Rep. Mark Udall and Republican former congressman Bob Schaffer both have had to steer off message at times and waste valuable time salvaging their reputations.



When Udall arrived at a Loveland candy shop Thursday, he had an unusual greeting for the small crowd: “I hope you don’t watch TV.”

A few dozen folks laughed, because everyone has seen the ads.



Who could forget the grainy, black- and-white footage of a scared-looking Udall glancing over his shoulder as the National Republican Senatorial Committee accuses him of running from the energy votes in his past?

It was hard to miss an ad from the group Freedom’s Watch linking Udall to a hippie van with smoke billowing out of it representing a Department of Peace proposal.

Hitting back with humor



Other ads have accused Udall of making foreign tyrants happy with his votes, ridiculed his support for a $10 million elk bridge, ripped his stand on union issues and portrayed him as a tax-hiking liberal.

Udall tries to debunk each ad on his Web site, but it could take hours for him to explain every vote and answer every charge.

So when he greeted about 65 folks at the town square in Fort Collins this week, he asked, “How many of you have seen me on television?” and urged them to judge him by the man they saw in person.

He could never hit back at each charge in a 30-second ad. So instead, his latest ad uses humor to dispense with the negativity in one fell swoop.

“Quick. Lock your doors and hide. It’s me, Mark Udall,” he says into the camera, asking voters to lighten up, resist falling for false attacks and support a more upbeat type of politics.

“I love your latest ad,” retiree Howard Meredith, 61, of Denver, shouted after Udall. Meredith sounds like just the kind of frustrated television viewer Udall is hoping to reach with his counter offensive.

“It’s hard to be tuned in to as much negativity as they give you,” he said.

Schaffer has had to waste time batting down attacks, too.

During a late-September swing through towns in his old, northeastern Colorado congressional district, he found small, enthusiastic groups of supporters at every stop.

Everywhere he went, he toted a miniature, red gas pump emblazoned with Udall’s name, accusing his Democratic opponent of favoring higher gas taxes that would hurt consumers.

But at several stops, he had to go off message when audience members raised their hands to ask how he was going to counter ads portraying him as a lackey for “big oil” because of his work for an energy company.

“When you look at Bob Schaffer’s resume, one thing comes though: oil,” says an ad from the League of Conservation Voters, which shows crude oil dripping on Schaffer’s resume.

The “Big Oil Bob” theme has become a mainstay for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which shows Schaffer going through a revolving door from Congress to a lucrative job in the oil industry.

Schaffer gets asked about the ads so often – even from his supporters – that he has a ready response, saying it was a legitimate job with a Colorado company, one that works on renewable energy sources, not just oil.

Besides, Schaffer says, his $160,000- a-year salary is public record and is less than a member of Congress makes – the difference being that an energy company “produces something useful.”

That got a laugh during Schaffer’s stop at an Akron restaurant. But even some of his supporters said they fear the ad is working.

“Sometimes, we see these ads and say, ‘Oh my God, he’s doing that?’ ” one woman told Schaffer in Akron.

“Usually, our supporters want me swinging back and answering every charge,” Schaffer said Friday. “There’s only the little matter of money standing in the way of that.”

‘No rules in this business’

In recent weeks, economic issues have dominated the campaign trail, wiping away some of the earlier debates over such issues as gas prices and the war in Iraq.

But amid the bombardment of television ads, negativity itself is becoming an issue. At a stop in Julesburg last month, a man in the crowd told Schaffer he did not like the angry tone of the candidates’ debate on Meet the Press.

On the stump, Udall tries to tap into that sentiment with a mostly upbeat message. But if anyone logged onto Udall’s official campaign Web site Friday, they saw a prominent “Campaign Alert” at the top listing five different attacks on Schaffer – that he’s a “self-admitted right-winger,” has “radical ideas,” etc.

Neither candidate has the money to answer every charge, particularly with so many outside, independent groups pouring millions of dollars into TV attacks. So they hit the campaign trail, try to stay on offense talking about the direction they’d like to see in Washington and find themselves playing defense more often than they’d like.

“(Negative ads) have an enormous impact,” Schaffer said. “There are no rules in this business.”


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