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Schaffer Putting Senate Plans on Hold

As former Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) aggressively prepares to launch a 2008 Senate bid, another potential candidate, ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-Colo.) is doing nothing to ramp up for the contest and indicated that he is inclined to sit it out absent being drafted as his party’s consensus nominee.

Schaffer said in a telephone interview this week that McInnis would make a “good Senator,” but declined to offer an endorsement, adding that he would make a formal decision on his own plans by October. Schaffer suggested that he wanted to avoid a divisive GOP primary, which he said would put Republicans at a disadvantage against Rep. Mark Udall (Colo.), the announced Democratic candidate who appears to have the unanimous backing of his party.

“I’m not averse to primaries. But I think Colorado Republicans will improve their odds through a consensus candidate,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer, an executive with Aspect Energy in Denver, served in Congress from 1997 to 2003. He lost the 2004 GOP Senate primary to beer magnate Pete Coors, and is thought to eye a return to the political stage, though not necessarily in 2008.

McInnis, who still has about $1 million in his old Congressional campaign account, has been out of the country and was unavailable for comment.

But one Colorado Republican with knowledge of McInnis’ actions since Sen. Wayne Allard (R) announced recently that he would not seek re-election in 2008, said the former Congressman has been working the phones while on vacation, assembling a campaign team and attempting to line up the support of Colorado’s key GOP players.

Two of them, former Gov. Bill Owens (R) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), have signaled their willingness to back McInnis. Owens has ruled out a Senate run, as has Tancredo, who is considering a presidential bid.

For McInnis, adding former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), as well as Colorado’s top Republican donors to his cadre of supporters is seen as key to getting Allard on board and solidifying himself as the consensus candidate for the Republican Senate nomination. In the Republican donor community, the names to watch, in particular, are billionaire developer Philip Anschutz; oil and gas company executive Bruce Benson; and artist Ralph Nagel.

Mcinnis already had publicly expressed his desire to run for Senate if Allard retired, and Colorado Republicans say no potential candidate has been anywhere near as active as McInnis in preparing for the race since the two-term Senator announced earlier this month that he would in fact call it quits next year.

No one questions McInnis’ ability to raise money, nor that he is a relentless campaigner. But his chances of scaring off potential primary challengers and running with a united Republican Party behind him in the general election could be determined by whether he can endear himself to Colorado’s socially conservative voters.

Carrie Gordon Earll, senior policy analyst for bioethics at Focus on the Family, the national social conservative group based in Colorado Springs, described McInnis’ Congressional record during his six terms representing southwestern Colorado’s vast, rural 3rd district as a “mixed bag.”

McInnis voted in line with the Family Research Council at a clip of 95 percent to 100 percent on legislation deemed a priority by the anti-abortion rights group, leaving him well positioned on the abortion issue, Earll said. But the former Congressman voted against Rep. Marilyn Musgrave’s (R-Colo.) proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, which could cause him problems.

“He’s in a position where he’d have to prove himself in explaining questions about his Congressional voting record, making clear what his intentions would be if he won office,” Earll said.

Meanwhile, Schaffer indicated that he believes Republicans will have their best chance of holding Allard’s seat if they nominate a “conservative centrist” who is not positioned too far to the right. Schaffer described himself as “pro-life,” but nonetheless said that his party would be better off in 2008 focusing on bread and butter issues such as the economy.

Schaffer also emphasized that he believes a candidate who is too far to the left, on the Democratic side, also is likely to fail next year. Most of the Democrats who have won statewide elections in recent years have been moderates; some Republicans believe Udall can be tarred as a liberal next year.

“I think Colorado is ready for a centrist approach,” Schaffer said.

Some Centennial State GOP insiders suggest internal differences on policy will be surmounted by Republicans’ desire to win a big race after losing the 2004 Senate race, the 2006 gubernatorial contest, not to mention losing control of both houses of the state Legislature in 2004.

Udall’s presence as a consensus candidate on the Democratic side is also thought to be a factor that could help engender Republican unity. Some Republicans blame intraparty skirmishes for the electoral losses the party has experienced over the past few cycles.

“I think you’ll see a very unified Republican Party once we have a nominee in 2008,” Colorado GOP spokesman Bryant Adams said.

The filing deadline to run for Senate in 2008 is May 25, with the primary scheduled for Aug. 8.

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