Schaffer Moving Quickly

Conservatives and Former Colleagues Rally ’Round Senate Candidate

Posted March 15, 2004 at 6:30pm

Former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) is quickly seeking to consolidate financial support in his surprisingly uncontested run for Colorado’s open Senate seat by tapping many of his former colleagues for fundraising aid.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) will hold an event in Las Vegas on Friday that will feature Schaffer along with eight other top Senate candidates and has already brought in $450,000 in donations; 11 House Members, including Republican Study Committee Chairwoman Sue Myrick (N.C.), are scheduled to host a Washington fundraiser for the Colorado Republican March 24.

Schaffer called the early support from Senators and House Members “very encouraging” in an interview Monday.

Schaffer officially joined the race Monday, even as Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the most recent pick of the state’s Republican establishment, decided against a run.

“My family and I believe I can best serve our state by continuing to assist Governor [Bill] Owens as lieutenant governor for the nearly three years ahead,” Norton said in a statement released Monday morning.

Her decision leaves Schaffer as the only Republican in the race to replace Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R), who announced his retirement March 1 after two terms. U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, decided against the race over the weekend.

Those decisions leave the so-called institutional wing of the party without a candidate. Owens was the first choice of these party leaders, and after he decided on March 8 not to

run, all eyes turned to Rep. Bob Beauprez (R), a former state party chairman. Beauprez backed away Friday.

Schaffer was much more closely aligned with the state’s movement conservatives during his time both in the state Legislature and in Congress.

Democrats united behind state Attorney General Ken Salazar as their preferred candidate after a wild week that saw Rep. Mark Udall (D) get into the race and then drop out in favor of Salazar less than 24 hours later.

Salazar is currently putting together his campaign team, which will closely resemble the personnel used by attorney Tom Strickland in his unsuccessful challenge to Wayne Allard (R), the state’s junior Senator, in 2002.

Longtime Colorado Democratic operative Mike Stratton will serve as campaign chairman, with Brian Hardwick likely to run the day-to-day operations.

Salazar will use Mandy Grunwald to handle his media strategy; Boulder-based pollster Paul Harstad will handle the survey research.

“We are moving forward,” Stratton said.

Although the clearing of the field for Schaffer was not as public as the Democratic power struggle that led to a unification behind Salazar, it is no less amazing given the number of candidates that were considering the race as recently as last week.

That list included Reps. Scott McInnis, Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave, as well as state Treasurer Mike Coffman.

“Lots of this is because of what I did,” explained Schaffer. “I have spent a lot of time on the ground here organizing volunteers and supporters and fundraisers.”

Sources familiar with Schaffer’s effort since announcing an exploratory committee last week said that former Colorado Sen. Bill Armstrong (R) played a major role in securing behind-the-scenes support for the former Congressman.

Although he left the Senate in 1990, Armstrong has remained a major power player in state politics, especially among term limits advocates and the ideological right of the Republican Party.

“I have been for Bob Schaffer from the instant I knew there was an opportunity to run for Senate,” said Armstrong. “I never felt it was necessary to clear the field or avoid a primary.”

Armstrong rejected claims that Schaffer was far from Republicans’ first choice for Senate.

“It is not a case of being far down the list,” Armstrong said. “In the minds of most people he was at the top of the list.”

Armstrong added that Coffman, Tancredo and Musgrave laid aside their candidacies in favor of Schaffer. Musgrave succeeded Schaffer in the House, with her predecessor’s endorsement.

Schaffer came to Congress in 1996 after a decade in the Colorado Senate and just two years removed from an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.

He won the High Plains 4th district in a contested primary against two other state legislators, thanks in no small part to the strong backing of Armstrong.

After serving three terms, Schaffer reluctantly abided by his term-limits pledge, stepping down last cycle.

Although he is no longer in Congress, Schaffer is tapping into relationships he developed while serving in Washington.

At the Las Vegas event at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino scheduled for Friday, Schaffer along with a number of other top Republican Senate candidates will raise money for their campaigns with Ensign’s help.

That list included Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Reps. Richard Burr (N.C.), George Nethercutt (Wash.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.), as well as former Reps. John Thune (S.D.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.). Former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, who is running in Florida, are also on board.

The event has been set up as a joint fundraising agreement with the proceeds being split between the candidates and Ensign’s Battle Born leadership political action committee.

The March 24 event at the Capitol Hill Club reads like a who’s who of conservative House luminaries.

Aside from Myrick and Musgrave, Reps. Steve Chabot (Ohio), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Peter Hoekstra (Mich.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Mike Pence (Ind.), Jim Ryun (Kan.), John Shadegg (Ariz.), Nick Smith (Mich.) and Mark Souder (Ind.) are signed on as co-hosts of the breakfast reception.

The fundraiser has three levels of giving: Platinum ($5,000), Gold ($2,500) and Silver ($1,000).