Colorado GOP looks for election rebound |

Colorado GOP looks for election rebound

Steven K. Paulson
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Mary Daubman, credentials committee chair sings along to the National Anthem before the start of the 2008 Colorado Republican Convention in Broomfield, Colo., on Saturday, May 31, 2008. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

BROOMFIELD, Colorado – Republicans will nominate former congressman Bob Schaffer on Saturday to run against Democrat Mark Udall for Colorado’s open U.S. Senate seat, hoping he can help them avoid another embarrassing loss in this swing state.

Republicans insist they can hold onto the seat after losses that included a U.S. Senate seat, a congressional seat, control of the state House, the state Senate and the governor’s office over the past four years. Schaffer and Udall are vying to replace Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, who is retiring.

“Colorado Republicans are motivated and excited to carry our state for Senator John McCain for president, to elect Bob Schaffer as our next United States senator, and to elect majorities in the Colorado state Legislature,” Republican Party state chairman Dick Wadhams said.

About 3,500 Republican delegates are expected to attend Saturday’s state convention and assembly in the Denver suburb of Broomfield on Saturday.

John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University, said Schaffer’s problems are mounting with a focus on perceived ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his conservative voting record and links to big oil at a time when many Coloradoans are angry over soaring gas prices.

The Republican lead in voter registration statewide won’t be enough to beat Udall, Straayer said. As of last month, Republicans outnumbered Democrats 1,018,000 to 901,000, with 1 million unaffiliated voters.

Attempts by Democrats to tie Schaffer to big oil by calling him “Big Oil Bob” in advertising have already taken a toll with the general election still six months away, Straayer said.

According to financial disclosure records, Schaffer received $150,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry since 1996, when he was first elected to Congress. When he retired from Congress in 2002, he went to work for Aspect Energy, an exploration and investment company.

Schaffer’s campaign repeatedly refers to Udall as “Boulder Liberal Mark Udall” in hopes of portraying him as out of touch with Colorado’s mainstream.

Wadhams said Udall’s proposals on energy development could cost thousands of jobs.

“What he wants to do is shut down the energy industry and cost thousands of Coloradoans their livelihood,” Wadhams said.

While in Congress, Schaffer voted to give the industry $13 billion in tax breaks.

Schaffer is now trying to portray himself as a self-described “moderate reformer” to appeal to unaffiliated voters, but his voting record in Congress is one of the most conservative of the past few decades.

Schaffer also has been dogged by reports that a trip he took to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, as a congressman was partly arranged by Abramoff’s firm.

Schaffer was a congressman from Colorado’s 4th District when he traveled to the South Pacific archipelago in 1999 to look into allegations of labor abuse in the territory’s textile industry.

Before he left, his staff let him know that the travel arrangements had been made by a lobbying firm and they were looking into what role the firm had in the trip, according to a memo from Schaffer’s congressional archive first reported by The Denver Post.

The firm was Preston-Gates, Abramoff’s firm, and Schaffer’s staff noted that the schedule for the trip included a lunch with current and former Preston-Gates clients ” including the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January 2006 to mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion in connection with his lobbying activities and a business deal. He is serving a sentence of about six years.

Wadhams emphasized Schaffer never knew Abramoff and never talked to him. He pointed out that Udall, a No. 1 target of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, took $1,500 in contributions from firms that employed Abramoff.

Udall’s contributions allowed Schaffer to make a “moral equivalency argument” in a tight race, according to Floyd Ciruli, a Colorado pollster.

Udall’s campaign has said he was donating the money to a group that helps human trafficking victims in the Northern Marianas.

Republicans also are worried about keeping the seat held by Republican congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave. Democrats have proposed spending more than $2.6 million to help Betsy Markey try to unseat Musgrave in the 4th Congressional District. Markey is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar.

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