If You're Not For It, You Can't Be Against It

August 2007
I wrote yesterday about the odd candidacy of Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Bob Schaffer, who has not run a particularly strong campaign thus far. Schaffer caused a stir yesterday after indicating to The Pueblo Chieftain that he hadn't decided whether or not to run for Senate in 2008 - a comment that a political advisor quickly excused as a mistake. As the Rocky Mountain News reported today:
U.S. Senate hopeful Bob Schaffer lit up the blogs Wednesday by saying that "when and if" he announces his candidacy next year, he would comment on the Piñon Canyon locals-vs.-Army controversy.Schaffer's comment to the Pueblo Chieftan stunned Democrats and his fellow Republicans alike because Schaffer already has announced he is running and has been raising money for his campaign."Bob misspoke," said Walt Klein, Schaffer's political consultant.Klein said the candidate realized it as soon as he read his own quote in Wednesday's paper. He said Schaffer meant his "official announcement" in 2008.But even that explanation puzzled politicos because candidates rarely wait for an official announcement to take stands on issues.For example, in 2005, the top gubernatorial candidates were polled about illegal immigration after the state Supreme Court rejected a ballot measure on the issue. All three responded although none formally announced until the next year.Left-leaning blogs and groups posted the Chieftan article, with ColoradoPols.com calling Schaffer's comments "bizzare." A flury of unflattering comments followed.The Army's proposal to triple the size of its Piñon Canyon training area to 654,000 acres has been a hot topic in southeastern Colorado. Many locals do not want to sell their land or see it condemned for the expansion. Klein said Schaffer declined to say where he stands on the issue because he doesn't want to "inject himself in the process" until the "current process runs its course" in Congress.
I suppose Schaffer's statement could have just been a slip of the tongue, though it may have been something of a Freudian Slip at that, but the News article also highlights again an interesting point: Schaffer's refusal to take a stand on high-profile issues. Klein's excuse for Schaffer's silent treatment - that he doesn't want to "inject himself in the process" - is really lame, but it's no doubt a coordinated strategy for a candidate whose race is being managed largely by folks who oversaw the 2002 Senate campaign of incumbent Wayne Allard.If you don't know much about Allard or his political beliefs, it's not by accident. Allard rarely spoke to the press during the 2002 campaign, with manager Dick Wadhams (now the state Republican party chair) doing most of the talking for him. Allard was an incumbent Senator at the time, running for re-election in a state where Republican voters outnumber Democrats, and a large part of the strategy in his race was to avoid doing anything that could cause a ripple. Incumbents almost always have the advantage in running for re-election, and being a Republican in a "red state" was an added boost; as long as Allard didn't screw up it was his race to lose, and he ended up beating Democrat Tom Strickland.I imagine that Schaffer's advisors are looking at the 2008 Senate race in much the same way, but for different reasons. Schaffer doesn't have the same advantages that Allard had in 2002, and he also has different disadvantages that need to be mitigated. Schaffer is a Republican in a state that still has more Republican voters than Democrats, so all things being equal, he is in a better natural position to beat Democrat Mark Udall next November. But Schaffer is also very conservative - as conservative as any politician in the state - which isn't a benefit when Colorado voters have been in the mood for electing moderate candidates (Sen. Ken Salazar and Gov. Bill Ritter, for example). The 2008 election also isn't likely to be a good year for conservative Republicans in general, considering their huge defeats in 2006 and the extreme dislike for President Bush.So what do you do if you are Schaffer? You tell voters as little about your political beliefs as possible, and you bash your opponent by calling him a "Boulder liberal." Then you hope that the Republican majority in Colorado elects you because you aren't a "Boulder liberal" and because they don't know enough about you to say no. If voters don't know what you stand for, they also don't know what you stand against.Trying to remain invisible on the issues is really the only strategy available for an ultra-conservative candidate like Schaffer in a political climate that doesn't benefit ultra-conservative Republicans. The more that voters get to know Schaffer, the less they are probably going to like him because he's so far from the center. While Udall may be a liberal, he looks moderate in comparison to Schaffer, and it's that comparison that voters are going to make.Republicans like to say that Udall is too liberal for Colorado voters, but that's irrelevant if the only other choice is too conservative for Colorado voters. If you're a moderate voter, which most Coloradans are, then you're going to choose the candidate who is most compatible with your views - even if that candidate is more liberal or conservative than you would like. Udall doesn't have to be a moderate in the mold of Salazar or Ritter; he just has to be more moderate than Schaffer, and that's clearly the case here.The 2008 Senate race will give voters a choice between Mark Udall or Bob Schaffer. What Schaffer wants is for it to be a choice between Udall and "not Udall," and that's why he'll dance around the issues until he can't dance no more .