- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

DENVER — Republican Senate hopeful Bob Schaffer defied party leaders who wish he would defer to rival Pete Coors by gaining a overwhelming victory yesterday at the state party convention.

Mr. Schaffer, a former three-term congressman, won 61 percent of the 3,333 delegate ballots cast, while Mr. Coors, scion of the Coors beer empire, got 39 percent. Each candidate needed at least 30 percent to win a spot on the Aug. 10 primary ballot.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and pride in this campaign, and we will win August 10,” said Mr. Schaffer after the vote, adding that “proven leadership, experience and good ideas are more important than wealth and celebrity status.”

The winner is expected to face Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar in November. The candidates are running to succeed Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who put the once-safe Republican seat in the undecided column in March when he unexpectedly announced his retirement.

The race has been closely watched nationwide as one of a handful of contests likely to determine the balance of power in the Senate. Republicans hold a slim 51-48 majority, with one independent who usually votes with the Democrats.

Analysts predicted a Schaffer convention victory, even though Mr. Coors has raised twice as much money and has the support of top Republicans Mr. Campbell and Gov. Bill Owens. After Mr. Coors entered the race, Mr. Schaffer came under pressure to withdraw. Some party leaders said the wealthy beer baron had a better chance of defeating the popular Mr. Salazar in November.

But Mr. Schaffer, who has run for office six times — once statewide, has developed closer ties to the state’s party activists. Most Republicans also view Mr. Schaffer as the more conservative of the two primary candidates — even though they hold the same positions on most issues — and delegates tend to favor staunch conservatives.

“Bob Schaffer starts with a pretty good advantage — he’s been campaigning for 15 years, and he knows these delegates,” said Coors spokeswoman Cinamon Watson before the vote. “Our goal has always been to get on the ballot.”

She also noted that a convention win doesn’t necessarily translate into a primary victory. Since 1996, at least three candidates who captured the top line at the convention later lost the primary.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Salazar narrowly lost the Democratic state convention vote to little-known school administrator Mike Miles, a more liberal candidate, although analysts give him virtually no chance of winning the primary.

But at yesterday’s convention, there was a discrepancy with the vote count after it was discovered that some delegates had received two ballots and some never received one. The candidates ultimately negotiated a settlement that gave them both slots on the ballot, with Mr. Schaffer’s name appearing on top.

It was clear after the candidate speeches that Mr. Schaffer controlled the majority of the convention delegates. His white “Schaffer” signs and T-shirts dominated the Universal Lending Pavilion, an outdoor tented arena next to the Pepsi Center, and his supporters filled the stage behind him as he spoke.

During his speech, Mr. Schaffer momentarily stunned onlookers by referring to the primary’s biggest controversy: the governor’s decision to switch his support from Mr. Schaffer to Mr. Coors in April, a move that upset many conservatives.

Instead of blasting the governor, however, Mr. Schaffer called for a truce.

“I have one thing to say to Governor Bill Owens: You are my friend,” he said before the hushed crowd. “I look forward to standing with you again on the battleground of ideas in the U.S. Senate.”

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