If you’re looking for evidence at how tarnished the Republican brand currently is and how strong the Democratic tailwinds are, look no further than Colorado’s Senate race. Democratic congressman Mark Udall is currently ahead in the polls, poised to pick up Republican Wayne Allard’s Senate seat.
This is despite the fact that Rep. Udall is a remarkably liberal candidate in a purple state with a history of electing moderates. Udall has an eight-percent rating from the American Conservative Union, making him one of the most liberal members of Congress. The representative from Boulder is so far to the left, a few years ago he cosponsored a piece of legislation with Dennis Kucinich that would have allocated $8 billion to create a new Cabinet-level Department of Peace.
#ad#His Republican opponent, Bob Schaffer, is known for having an exceptionally good grasp of policy and being a man of integrity. The former congressman stepped down from office in a safe seat because he had made a pledge to serve no more than three terms, exactly the kind of promise many make to get elected but few keep.
Schaeffer has also run a clean and consistent campaign. Udall, on the other hand, broke a campaign promise, with major ramifications. During a televised debate with Schaeffer, Udall promised to vote against recessing Congress in August until an energy bill was passed to help do something about the summer’s sky-high gas prices. A week later, the Democratic-controlled Congress voted to recess — a measure that passed by one vote, and Udall was absent at the time the vote happened. Had he kept his promise, Udall would have singlehandedly stopped Congress from leaving town without an energy bill.
Despite all this, the RealClearPolitics polling average has Udall up 11 points. According to Dick Wadhams, Schaffer’s campaign manager, there’s no big mystery about this. “We’ve been dealing with the same thing every Republican has,” Wadhams told National Review Online.
A month ago, the race was much tighter. According to Wadhams, there have been no big developments in the race since then, but Schaffer and other Republicans are simply at the mercy of national trends. “We’re continuing to deal with the economic bad news and that was the turning point in the race, in terms of putting us in the position of having to catch up,” he said.
And Udall has benefited correspondingly. “This would be the only year that a Boulder liberal like Mark Udall could even be in the game. He has been the beneficiary of an extraordinary set of circumstances,” Wadhams said.
However, Wadhams remains optimistic. The RealClear average contains a number of older polls, and national trends are finally starting to benefit Schaeffer. A recent Fox News poll shows McCain and the generic Republican ballot each getting a five-point bump since last week, putting McCain down three and the generic Republican ballot down four. And overall polling trends show the race narrowing.
This jibes with what the Schaffer campaign is seeing. “Our tracking is in middle single digits and actually we’ve seen an uptick this week and I think both McCain and Schaffer are in a position to pull this thing off,” Wadhams said.
Even with a significant lead in the polls, Udall hasn’t been able to close the deal with voters. “Another reason that I think we still have a shot at this [is that] Udall has not been able to get above 50 percent in the polls. He’s still mired in the mid-forties,” Wadhams said. He said he expects undecideds to break strongly for Schaffer.
The Schaffer campaign has been pushing strongly on a message that will resonate with this group.
“We’ve been hitting the message on checks and balances to a Democratic majority pretty hard, and I think that with the unaffiliated independent voters that are still undecided that’s a message they will respond to,” Wadhams said. Schaffer has also been touting a National Taxpayers Union report that concludes Udall’s proposals would raise federal spending $55 billion.
He’s also confident that the campaign can turn voters out. The GOP still enjoys a slight edge in party registration in Colorado. “We’ve got an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort . . . . one of the best in the nation,” he said.
Schaffer concedes that “national headwinds are still against us,” but the bottom line is that even facing the most hostile environment for Republicans in a generation things aren’t out of reach. “We are still in a position to win,” Wadhams said. “I think both McCain and Schaffer could pull this thing off.”
– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.