- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

DENVER — Bob Schaffer, a former three-term congressman, has emerged as the last Republican standing after a half-dozen of his better-known colleagues declined to enter the Senate contest to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Mr. Schaffer formally announced his candidacy yesterday, giving him instant David status against the Democratic Party’s Goliath, state Attorney General Ken Salazar, a fifth-generation Coloradan who has won statewide office twice and is widely regarded as the candidate to beat.

The race gives beleaguered state Democrats something to crow about in a state that Republicans have dominated for the past decade. Both Senate seats are held by Republicans.

“I’ve been saying it for a year that we’d win the Campbell seat, and nobody believed me. And it’s nice to be right for a change,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Chris Gates. “The reason is that nobody wants to take on Ken Salazar. He’s the most popular politician in the state, Democratic or Republican.”

State Republican Party Chairman Ted Halaby cautioned Democrats against declaring victory, especially since the seat could be pivotal to control of the Senate, where Republicans now hold a 51-48 advantage, with one independent.

“I look forward to their overconfidence,” said Mr. Halaby. “Obviously, it will be a challenging race, but I know Bob is up to the task. He’s a very personable fellow and a very hard campaigner.”

Two weeks ago, the Republican Party was cruising toward an easy Senate win with Mr. Campbell, until he stunned politicians by announcing that he would withdraw his bid for a third Senate term, citing health reasons.

Republicans quickly turned to popular two-term Gov. Bill Owens, but he demurred, citing his obligations to his family and the state. The next day, Mr. Salazar entered the race, defying expectations that he would wait two years to run for governor.

Mr. Salazar’s entry led to the immediate exit of two other top Democrats, Rep. Mark Udall and millionaire businessman Rutt Bridges, both of whom had announced their candidacies earlier.

Republicans then watched the better part of their party’s bench take a pass, including Reps. Bob Beauprez, Scott McInnis and Tom Tancredo, Lt. Gov. Jane Norton and state Treasurer Mike Coffman.

Even Democrats were shocked.

“In 10 days, this went from being a lockdown Republican seat to a likely Democratic pick-up,” Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Schaffer faces retired Air Force Academy law professor Dan O’Bryant in the Aug. 10 primary. In the Democratic primary, Mr. Salazar’s opponents are El Paso County educator Mike Miles and Boulder lawyer Larry Johnson.

Mr. Schaffer left Congress in 2002 after three terms to honor his term-limit pledge. He is known as a strong social and fiscal conservative, while Mr. Salazar has a reputation as a centrist Democrat who appeals to crossover voters.

As the former congressman from Fort Collins, Mr. Schaffer faces a geographical disadvantage. He isn’t as widely known to the voters in the metro Denver area, home to about 3 million of the state’s 4 million residents.

Of course, that’s what they said about Wayne Allard, Colorado’s other senator. A rural Coloradan from Loveland, Mr. Allard, a Republican, held that same House seat before winning his Senate seat in 1996.

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