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GOP Senate Candidate Bob Shaffer Battles the Odds in Colorado

U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, a former state senator and Congressman from Colorado’s 4th District, sports a 99% rating from the American Conservative Union, is a model family man and boasts of expertise as an executive in a Denver-based energy investment firm. But those are difficult credentials in a year that is shaping up to make the tsunami of 2006 look like a ripple for Republicans. He is up against popular Congressman Mark Udall and running in a state where Barack Obama has moved into a small lead.

I interviewed him on Friday about the financial crisis and his views on energy, judges, and race-based preferences as well as the prospect of a Democratic-dominated federal government. He speaks briskly with little trace of Washington-ese that hampers many candidates. And despite the dismal outlook for many Republicans appears remarkably upbeat about his prospects.

What did he think about the Paulson rescue bill and the bank nationalization?

“I’m not in favor of it.” He quickly contrasts himself with his opponent: “My opponent Mark Udall’s views are very centered on government and having government nationalize banking institutions.” He voices two objections. First, he says Congress went on “a five week vacation, came back for two weeks and then left again.” This, he says, made for situation where Congress had to move “fast and not think about it.” He objected to the approach of Secretary Hank Paulson and the Bush Administration which presented “just one solution.” He contends that was the most expensive option, a $700B bailout, which essentially left the government in the position to “borrow more money and print more money.” The result he says is that the value of the dollar will be diminished and “your buying power is dropping.” He points to the total cost of $1.1-1.5 trillion, a large percentage of what is an average annual budget of $3 trillion.

What would he have done differently?

“I would have kept Congress in session. I would have put the budget committee in a room and found real savings. I would have put the tax writing committee in another room and found deep, serious and meaningful tax relief.” He suggests taking capital gains tax rates to zero for a year and passing legislation to allow firms “to repatriate funds from foreign banks — drop that rate to 5 ¼%.” He says, “We should treat this as a full scale crisis.”

Should the prospect of an undivided government with large Democratic majorities concern voters?

“Well, I’ve been making that case for some time. We’ve seen the future here in Colorado.” By that he means that divided state government ended in 2006 and Colorado now has a Democratic government and democratic-dominated legislature. He says, “That has taken the economy which was strong and growing to where it is now looking perilous.” He cites job and business start ups stats as evidence that left to one-party rule by Democrats, the Colorado economy has suffered. He says grimly, “We can see the future.”

What about judges?

“You heard Barack Obama in the last debate talk about how important Roe v Wade is. He took a question on judges and turned it into a singular discourse on abortion.” He explains that as a member of the Senate he will look for judges that are “strict constructionist, relying on the Constitution and not relying on international law, for example. I don’t want anyone legislating from the bench.” Would he vote against judges or filibuster judges who don’t share that view of the proper role of the judiciary? He responds quickly, “Of course.”

What’s the difference between the two candidates on domestic energy development?

“I’m in favor of an ‘all of the above energy strategy,” is his reply — which makes him sound a bit like John McCain. He cites his experience since leaving Congress working for an independent energy company and notes that Congress is an energy-producing state. “We are part of America’s solution.” He explains the potential of oil shale which is in ample supply in the Green River Valley and Colorado specifically which could, with advancements in technology, eventually produce hundreds of billions of gallons of oil. He says, “We can find a way to make Saudi Arabia and Nigeria irrelevant [in energy production.]” He says that his opponent has blocked publication of federal rules which could begin the process of exploring and developing oil shale. He says simply, “I’m in favor of broad based energy development.”

Should the alliance between Big Labor and Democrats concern voters?

“I think Coloradans are on to their agenda” he contends. Democratic Governor Bill Ritter, after all, pushed through an agenda to among, other things, unionize the state workforce. As for the federal “Employee Free Choice Act” (a favorite of Democrats) which would substitute “card checks” for secret ballot union elections he says, “There is nothing free about it and no choice in it.” He explains, “This takes away the secret ballot. This card check would take it away and give union bosses the right to collect authorization cards. It is all about union coercion.”

He favors Amendment 46, a state initiative to ban the state from using race, gender and other classifications in state education, employment and contracting but his opponent does not. What should the voters conclude from that?

“He’s not in the mainstream. Most Coloradans believe we should have a colorblind society.” Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s admonition that Americans should not be “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he says that he differs with Udall, who has a “preference for maintaining laws which require discrimination” by having government treat citizens differently based on race, gender, etc.

He is behind now in a tough year for Republicans. Can he really come from behind?

“We’re trending in the right direction.” He recalls other Republicans who similarly trailed going into the final week but came from behind to win. He says, “We’re in familiar territory” and stresses that he remains “optimistic” he can pull out what most observers believe will be a close race.

Schaffer is a brand of Colorado Republican who, a generation ago, would be a shoe-in. Since then the state has drifted “purple.” It may for the first time since 1964 (when Lyndon Johnson carried the state) that it will vote for a Democrat for President. That will make his task more difficult.

Like many Republicans, Shaffer is struggling to focus voters on the prospect of an all-Democratic government which may, despite campaign promises of moderation, take a turn decidedly more liberal than many of the state’s voters. If he succeeds, he will have pulled off an upset nearly as remarkable as an improbable McCain victory.

If not, he’ll be remembered as another Republican casualty of 2008.