28 September 2008

Schaffer and Udall Debate on Meet the Press

Anyone watch the Colorado bloodbath on Meet the Press this morning? If you missed it you can see it here. Bob Schaffer did a pretty effective job of trammeling over Mark Udall's airtime, which I'm sure was not by accident. To Schaffer's credit, he did nicely to interrupt Udall and introduce detailed accounts of Udall's voting history, though I'll have to fact-check that before I take Schaffer's word for it. Of course, Schaffer might have been more convincing if he didn't appear to be reading a memo an aide placed in his hand 30 seconds before the debate began. He stumbled left and right over the thing, almost as badly as he ummed and erred and backtracked in talking about Iraq.

Schaffer's tactics on Meet the Press, however, had more to do with dominating talk time than with carefully refuting his opponent. Udall, to his credit, showed up the gentleman, but courtesy by itself is not a winning strategy. Not sure what Udall could do differently. Tom Brokaw let the two run, didn't really try to reign Schaffer in. That's probably for the better. Schaffer may have gone too far and turned some undecideds off, though I'm not sure about that. Also, it would have looked terrible if Udall were "saved" by the moderator.

Schaffer oozes eau de Wadhams at every campaign appearance. From the opening moment of the segment, Schaffer looked less composed and ready to engage in serious debate than Udall. While Brokaw intoduced, Schaffer looked unsettled, uneasy, and a little uninterested. "Is this guy still talking?" his demeanor seemed to say. "When's it my turn?" Schaffer clearly attempted to derail Udall's attention, and Udall did great 90% of the time to not even blink, not even pause, as he carried on the grown ups' conversation with Brokaw. But Schaffer wouldn't go away, jabbering in Udall's ear the whole time, and took obvious glee in interrupting Udall every time the topic had clearly begun to roll on. He smiled as he sucked up airtime and asked Udall questions then steamrolled right over the answers.

Schaffer even refused to shut up when Brokaw waded into the mix at one point on the topic of Republican leadership in Congress. Schaffer interrupted the host to argue "I'm not gonna carry the water for every bad decision Republicans and Democrats made." But that's actually not true. Schaffer's fighting so hard right now because Coloradans have become disenchanted with Republican policies. Colorado has turned bright purple, if not blue, with a Democratic governor and Democratic legislature. Being held accountable for failed policies is exactly what this election cycle is about, which is why Schaffer will continue to pull out the stops and fight dirty to cling to a chance in CO.

Schaffer has demonstrated his ease in the public light and his willingness to launch insults and misrepresentations since the first debate between the two candidates back in June in Parker, CO. I had the privilege to sit in on that one, and frankly what I saw today appears to be the natural progression of a completely unchecked negative campaign. Schaffer is the well-polished snake oil salesman to Udall's "aw-shucks" likability. While I'm inclined to believe that Coloradans still value the gentleman-on-the-range common courtesy that Udall projects, it's gonna be a tough sell as a campaign platform. Udall's going to have to figure out how to cut through the Schaffer noise machine and get his points home. I think he did that a couple times today, and Udall was clearly in his element touting renewables and reminding the audience that Schaffer is an oil and gas exec. Coloradans get riled up about the state's resources, and Udall is right to remind folks how much Schaffer has profited off the energy industry. Udall also got off to the better start, I thought, on the topic of the federal bailout. Schaffer rambled on for two minutes, then Udall simply said "People are mad. People are upset. My calls are mixed, between people who say no and people who say hell no."

Udall, over the course of the campaign, has become a little more flexible on the fly, but not a lot. He's going to have to learn to wing it, especially when Schaffer gets going like he did today. Udall's got to deflate and redirect with humor, I think. It's one of Udall's underutilized strengths. Hey, Bob, that's pretty good. Why don't we save it for the windfields back home and you can generate a couple extra watts for heating bills this winter and do good for a change by Colorado families. Chalk that up to quips I'd like to hear.

Not sure where it goes from here. I've yet to see a single, positive ad for Schaffer in Colorado. The campaign and PACs are buying up insane amounts of ad time, and despite the mass exposure I can't tell you a single claim that Schaffer has made on TV about his own qualifications. I can only repeat the dredge about "Boulder Liberal" Mark Udall jacking up gas prices and cosponsoring a Department of Peace bill back in 2003. Knocking on doors, I'm surprised to find out how many Obama supporters say they don't think they'll vote for Udall because of what they've heard on TV. The best Democrats can do is keep registering voters, and let them know that Barack Obama is invested in Mark Udall's campaign. Colorado will be in desperate straits if Bob Schaffer gets a chance to further open the state to slash-and-burn, rape-and-pillage type resource exploitation in the name of development. And, as evidenced on TV today, he'll be a prime candidate to exercise the filibuster if Dems don't get 60 seats in the Senate, which looks unlikely.

Good news is that the Colorado race still leans blue, but not by a whole lot. We'll be at the Denver debate on October 7, and I'll have a report on that shortly after the event. In the meantime, we've got a few more new voters to reach in Colorado before October 6, the last day to register to vote.