I was among the many political observers last fall who was stunned to see an experienced candidate like Republican Bob Beauprez completely implode in his efforts to become Governor. Beauprez was a former chair of the state Republican Party who had won two straight races for congress in CD-7. yet in his campaign for governor he looked as though he was running for student council for the first time. It was weird to watch someone so seasoned run such a terrible campaign; Beauprez ran such a bad race, in fact, that it’s no stretch to say that it was the worst statewide campaign we’ve seen in Colorado in decades.

Until now, perhaps.

Republican Bob Schaffer is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the two-term GOP Sen. Wayne Allard, who is retiring rather than run for re-election (Rep. Mark Udall is the candidate on the Democratic side). Schaffer is an experienced politician, having served several terms in congress in CD-4 (the seat currently held by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave) and most recently winning election to the state school board in 2006. He also has experience running for this particular office, having lost a primary bid to Pete Coors in 2004. Yet despite all of this political experience, Schaffer’s campaign for Senate thus far can be summed up in one word: Bad.

Schaffer has only officially been in the race for less than four months, but things have gone poorly literally from the very beginning. In early May Schaffer announced his candidacy, then backtracked, then announced again. It was hardly a smooth entry into a race, and announcing your candidacy usually isn’t the toughest thing to do. Raising money is hard. Organizing volunteers is hard. Announcing that you are going to run…not so much. To quote a character from the movie A History of Violence: “How do you f*** that up?”

Schaffer did have a bright spot after the second quarter fundraising period ended, when he reported raising $720,000 in less than three months. But since then, he’s been embroiled in a scandal that keeps growing because he keeps screwing it up. Schaffer was accused in July of a conflict of interest in taking money for his Senate coffers from a private school magnate whose company received a favorable vote from Schaffer on the state school board. What makes this story doubly bad for Schaffer is that in late 2006 he proposed to the school board that members be vigilant in disclosing their campaign contributions and potential conflicts of interest. Not only did Schaffer look like he had a conflict of interest, he looked like a hypocrite, which is going to make it easy for his opponents to create negative advertisements this time next year.

Schaffer’s response to this mess has been to shrug it off while supporters hurl grade-school insults around. He has refused to sign an ethics pledge that other board members have signed, and he was a no-show at a special meeting called on Monday in which the state board held an ethics discussion. Newspapers across the state ran negative stories yesterday about Schaffer, including a story by the Rocky Mountain News in which he gave this terrible interview:

Schaffer also pointed out that Brennan contributed to his U.S. Senate campaign, not his state Board of Education campaign, and the contribution came after his vote.

Good call on pointing out that you received the donations as soon as you cast the favorable vote. Well played, Bob.

Yet all weirdness aside, Schaffer seems to have outdone himself today in an interview that appeared in The Pueblo Chieftain. In a story about where the U.S. Senate candidates stand on the Pinon Canyon controversy, Schaffer not only refused to take a position on the issue but then made it sound like he might not run for Senate after all:

Schaffer, who is from Fort Collins, clearly did not want to step into the Pinon Canyon controversy Tuesday. Asked for his opinion on the proposed expansion, the former 4th District congressman declined to give one.

“Next year, when and if I announce my Senate candidacy, it will be a more appropriate time to speak out on this important subject,” he said, choosing his words carefully in a telephone interview.

When and if you announce your candidacy? Huh? Schaffer already announced his candidacy. Twice.

Schaffer may very well defeat Udall next November, but if you were a betting man you certainly wouldn’t hesitate to put your money on the Democrat at this point. It would be hard for any statewide candidate to run as poorly as Bob Beauprez ran last year, but Schaffer certainly appears up to the task.