Udall shrugs off ‘Boulder liberal’
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” Four years ago on a snow- slicked road outside Silverton, U.S. Rep. Mark Udall stood in the aisle of a campaign bus and laughed at the idea he was too liberal to ever get elected statewide.
He’s still laughing.
Udall managed to shake the “Boulder liberal” label to beat former Congressman Bob Schaffer in a race billed as one of the most competitive nationwide.
“I tell you, I am ready to lead. You are ready to lead. America is ready to lead,” Udall told an ecstatic crowd at the Democratic Party celebration in downtown Denver.
In the end, the contest wasn’t even close. Schaffer lost the critical Jefferson and Arapahoe swing counties, and his own county, Larimer, which had propelled him to three terms in Congress.
It went down as the most expensive Senate race in Colorado history. Outside groups spent more than $26 million, mostly on TV ads attacking Udall’s or Schaffer’s records.
That bothered voters like Bernard Foley, 93, of Northglenn, who voted for Udall.
“If half of the stuff they put on the TV, if just half of it is true, neither one of them should be in office,” he said.
Udall said that he will reach across the aisle to get the best ideas, whether they are Republican or Democratic ideas.
“It’s just soaking in,” Udall said minutes after the Rocky Mountain News declared him the winner. “I am truly honored. I have a lot of work to do.”
Udall’s victory – and that of his cousin Tom Udall in New Mexico’s Senate race – signals the passing of the torch to a new generation of Udalls.
And it validates Republicans’ fears in 1996 when Udall was first running for the state legislature that with his family name and Western roots, he’d be dangerous in years to come.
“My family has been following his family’s involvement in politics for years,” said Alan Grimes of Denver, a 23-year-old graduate student who voted for Udall.
This was Udall’s second but only serious attempt at becoming a U.S. senator.
The congressman from Eldorado Springs entered the 2004 race, but dropped out less than 24 hours later when Attorney General Ken Salazar announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination for the open seat.
Crushed, Udall nonetheless rallied on Salazar’s behalf, joining him on his campaign bus tour through Colorado that October. It was on that trek that the “too liberal to win” comment tickled Udall, instead of ticking him off.
His easygoing manner stood out on the campaign trail. Dressed in a denim or Eddie Bauer shirt and Levis – waist 34, length 34 – he talked in his folksy manner about the importance of bipartisanship, and of his late mother, whose roots in Colorado go back several generations.
Schaffer dressed business-casual. He quoted economist Milton Friedman in his rapid fire, mile-a- minute delivery. Schaffer talked about freedom and liberty, how Congress got things done during his three terms there, and his mother, a Ukranian immigrant.
Schaffer’s fans loved what they saw as an assertive and authoritative approach. But others were taken aback by what they saw as his overaggressiveness.
Harold Anderson, a Republican and Lone Tree city councilman, watched Udall and Schaffer in July at their first of 15 debates.
“The thing I did notice is that Udall kept stressing we’ve got to work together as a team, which I’ve said many times on the City Council,” Anderson said. “Schaffer’s referring to people as Boulder residents. I think that turned a lot of people off – I think it turned me off.”
Udall’s slow-to-boil nature served him well when he was hammered by attack ads, mostly from out-of-state conservative groups.
Udall spoofed the negative ads in his own TV commercial. “Quick. Lock your doors and hide. It’s me, Mark Udall,” he said in his spot.
And he poked fun of the ads on the campaign trail, saying one voter in Lakewood told him, “You don’t look as ugly in person.”
The final figures for how much was spent in the race won’t be known until next month. As of Oct. 15, Udall had raised $10.1 million and Schaffer $6 million.
But the real story was the money spent by outside groups. Under federal tax law they can raise unlimited donations but can’t coordinate with the candidates.
Pro-Udall groups spent at least $10.4 million, again a mix of mostly negative Schaffer spots but some simply backing their candidate. Schaffer, a former oil and gas executive, was attacked for his ties to the industry.
Groups supporting Schaffer spent around $15.8 million, mostly on ads. Some painted Schaffer in a positive light but most ripped Udall on taxes, earmarks and his one-time support for a Department of Peace.
Udall, who pushed for renewable energy in the state legislature back when it was merely a fad, branched out from the environment, becoming a member of the House Armed Services Committee. When he voted against invading Iraq, he outlined a long list of concerns based on voracious reading about the Middle East.
A testament to the Udall campaign’s ground game came in August when some 300 people showed up at a Udall event in Republican-rich Highlands Ranch.
The turnout served as a reminder that politics is often about timing.
Voters in 2006, upset with ethics scandals, an unpopular war and even more unpopular president, rejected Republicans in droves.
This year, voters were even angrier and about everything – the economy, the budget deficit, gas prices, their imploding 401(k)s. They voted in record numbers, and many of them voted for Democrats.
Mark Udall, the “Boulder liberal,” now has a new moniker: Colorado’s newest U.S. senator.
Staff writer John Rebchook contributed to this report.