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Rocky Mountain News - Schaffer, Udall Spar Over Energy

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Rocky Mountain News - Schaffer, Udall Spar Over Energy

Bob Schaffer came out swinging Monday.

After weeks of being dubbed "Big Oil Bob" in ads and taking criticism for his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Schaffer turned the tables on his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, at their first debate in the race for U.S. Senate.

Schaffer accused Udall of flip-flopping on the Iraq war and delaying decisions critical to energy development.

"I do not believe constant delay is a strategy for America's energy independence," Schaffer said of Udall's reluctance to allow faster oil-shale development.

Udall often responded by saying the way to solve problems is to work together rather than to continue partisan divisions in Congress.

Near the end of the debate, Schaffer's supporters began laughing at Udall for repeating the comment, but Udall supporters said their candidate was far more composed.

Schaffer, a former congressman from Fort Collins, also chided Boulder residents in the crowd for interrupting the debate several times, drawing loud protests in response.

Emblematic of the tone of the day for each candidate was a question over whether officials need to speed the extraction of oil shale in the state. Udall, of Eldorado Springs, said that while research is under way to determine the potential benefits of oil shale, Colorado should not be turned into a "national sacrifice zone."

Schaffer responded by saying: "Ladies and gentleman, that is part of the reason I'm running for Congress . . . We need (all forms of energy), and nothing should be taken off the table."

The hour-long debate in front of about 800 people at the Wildlife Experience was the first between the congressional veterans looking to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard.

It followed months of attack ads and critical news conferences that came as polls showed Udall turning a dead heat into a 10-point lead in the race.

Schaffer campaign manager Dick Wadhams said the longtime officeholder, known in the past for his aggressive campaigns, waited until the first debate to unleash his new accusations because this is the time people begin following the campaign closely. The style will continue over the next four months, Wadhams said.

In a moment illustrative of his new aggressive style, Schaffer at one point read a resolution stating that Iraq had been a state sponsor of terrorism and failed to end its weapons-of-mass-destruction program.

He asked who agreed with it, drawing raised hands from his supporters and hisses from Udall's.

Schaffer then revealed that he was reading a resolution introduced by Udall in 2002, a move that longtime Republican activist Kendal Unruh called "the best political checkmate I've ever seen in a debate."

Udall campaign spokeswoman Taylor West called the move a distortion of the record, saying the resolution was one to withhold congressional authorization for attacking Iraq until all diplomatic means were exhausted.

As Udall supporters booed or heckled Schaffer, he asked more than once for respect from his "friends from Boulder," prompting several to yell that Udall had support from places other than just his home county.

Udall responded: "When I serve in the United States Senate, I'm not going to pick out one community or another and stereotype that community."

Reporter Lynn Bartels contributed to this article.

He said/he said

Here's an issue-by-issue look at what the U.S. Senate candidates had to say:

On whether increasing or decreasing oil companies' taxes will help the economy

* Schaffer: "When you cut tax rates on the producers in America, we actually increase tax revenue dramatically . . . We ought to send people to Washington who have an economic appreciation that high tax policy suppresses the ingenuity of the American people."

* Udall: "When you look at where the economy is today and when you look at where the oil and gas prices are today, I don't think anybody believes the oil and gas companies need more tax breaks today."

On what must be done in Iraq

* Schaffer: "The war is not Iraq. Iraq is one battlefront in a larger war" on jihadists. But we can celebrate victory in Iraq, he said, when the Iraqi military can defend itself, Iranian pressure on the country is decreased and the country is close to self-sufficiency on elections, police force and security force.

* Udall: Said the U.S. must make a "responsible and honorable" exit from Iraq and reinvest in the soldiers in this country. "I think the risk of staying in Iraq in this open-ended commitment . . . is far, far riskier. I have faith in the Iraqi people that we can turn this over to them."

On the proposed expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Area

* Schaffer: "The Army . . . has not made a compelling case" for expansion. However, we should study whether such an expansion is justified.

* Udall: Reiterated that he is opposed to the Army's use of eminent domain, and has worked in Congress to slow it down. "We have to be very, very careful about supporting the people in the southeast part of Colorado."

On health care reform

* Schaffer: Supports tax credits to reward people with healthy lifestyles, allowing competition in insurance markets between states and diverting money saved on state welfare programs to health care for low-income children.

* Udall: Opposes a government-sponsored solution but supports expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, assisting lower-income folks who can't pay their premiums and ensuring that insurance companies can't discriminate vs. customers.

Talking points

The best moments from Monday's U.S. Senate debate between Republican Bob Schaffer and Democrat Mark Udall

* Best zinger: Schaffer was touting his party's fiscal conservatism saying, "In '96, we reduced taxes on . . . " when a Udall supporter, to much laughter, yelled out, "The rich!"

* Best post-debate zinger: Lisa Van Bramer, a doctor and die-hard Schaffer fan, approached Schaffer's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, after the debate.

"I feel an ethical obligation to offer my services to Mark Udall after the beating he just took," she said.

* Best left jab: After one Udall answer that Schaffer found particularly galling, Schaffer said, "That's why I'm running for office." But, as Udall pointed out, Schaffer's almost always running for office. Schaffer's name has been on the ballot in nine of the last 11 elections, including a failed U.S. Senate run in 2004.

* Best scissors-and-Sharpie team: Schaffer's supporters easily won the sign war with a variety of homemade signs, including "Senator Bob" and "Students for Schaffer." A contingent of Schaffer supporters waved "U Turn Udall" signs at various times when Udall spoke.

* Best unity moment: Schaffer fans jumped to their feet and agreed with Udall on one point, when the Democrat praised American troops.

* Best understatement: Schaffer welcomed the Green Party's U.S. Senate candidate, Bob Kinsey, who attended although he wasn't invited to participate in the debate.

"I'm glad you're here Bob," Schaffer told Kinsey.

No doubt. Most politicos believe Green Party votes siphon support from Democrats.

* Best totally unbiased critique: Udall's wife, Maggie Fox, said her husband "hands down" won the debate. "I think he was true, straightforward and honest," she said.

Likewise, Maureen Schaffer thought her husband nailed it. "I think he was great. He was phenomenal," she said.

Does she ever tell him he didn't do great?

"I tell him that all the time," she said with a laugh. "But I never have to tell him that after a debate."

* Best Twilight Zone moment: It was startling how much Schaffer praised Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter for Ritter's leadership on drilling on the Roan Plateau.

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