The 2008 election season is an exciting time for everyone. For the Democratic Party, the presidential race is invigorating, especially among young voters. For the Republicans, there’s a fresh opportunity to redefine the Party outside its current rut of neoconservatism. There are exciting prospects for everyone, especially for the state of Colorado.
Why is this excitement good for Colorado, you ask? Because Colorado has boring politicians.
Besides attending college, I’ve lived in Colorado my entire life. I love living there; I miss the mountains when I leave, and I enjoy the people when I get back. But when was the last time you actually heard, in any national news source, of something interesting from a Colorado politician? Aside from Tom Tancredo’s single-issue and short-lived campaign in this year’s primary season, the only instance that comes to my mind is former Colorado Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign all the way back in 1988. At the time, Hart was the clear front-runner and presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party. However, he is now most memorable for his explicit challenge that the media would never find any dirt on him, even if they followed him around day and night (which, of course, they did.) The whole thing came crashing down spectacularly in roughly a week.
While devastating for Hart’s political career, this fall from grace was at least interesting. I mean, a flaming zeppelin may spell bad news for those on board, but it’s certainly eye-catching for the rest of us. Along these lines, I’ve recently been following the current Colorado senatorial campaign between Mark Udall and Bob Schaffer.
Here’s the quick digest: Republican former Representative Bob Schaffer and his campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, have acted demonstrably crazy, outspoken, and sleazy, even by political standards. Schaffer was even lightly associated with the persistent Jack Abramoff scandal. Wadhams punctuates every attack on Udall with the hopeful nickname “Boulder Liberal Mark Udall.” While the name hasn’t stuck, that doesn’t prevent Wadhams from trying it four or five times in every press statement. (Also, “Dick Wadhams” can be easily misspelled as “Dickwad Hams,” which is hilarious.) It’s a brilliant shit-show of the most blatantly negative Colorado campaign in quite some time, but the honest truth is that Schaffer is a better speaker and a better politician than Udall. Schaffer has some real potential here, and he’s got the credentials to be the next big political Hindenburg from Colorado.
On the other hand, Democratic Representative Mark Udall is polling ahead and raising more money than Schaffer. In the midst of “Obamania,” it would be easy to write this off as an easy Senate victory for the candidate, but Udall is boring as hell. He stuttered through answers in a recent debate, he constantly rehashes the same points, and he seems physically incapable of producing a worthwhile sound bite.
This is, in fact, a very tough race to call, and due to the inherent shortcomings of the inaptly named “political science,” we can never accurately predict the victor of an election. Still, there are some helpful tools we can use. So, if I may, I would like to present to you two handy tests to gauge who will win in this particular race:
1. The Hat Test™
When I worked in Governor Bill Ritter’s office this past summer, I spent a lot of time in the supply locker–as any good intern should. The locker is housed in an old bank-style vault in the capitol building and contains all the necessary supplies for governing in Colorado: envelopes, stationery, interns, commemorative wine bottles, an Autopen, and– no joke–two Stetson cowboy hats.
Evidently, they’re standard issue. There’s nothing more important to do as a Colorado politician than to strut around ranchland wearing one. In a Google image search for “Bill Ritter,” there are five results in the first ten pages where he is wearing a cowboy hat.
Conversely, a search for Ritter’s opponent “Bob Beauprez” yields only one cowboy hat in the first ten pages, and he’s not even wearing it; he’s just holding it.
The same search for “Ken Salazar” yields a whopping 26 pictures of the current Democratic Senator wearing his trusty Stetson. Salazar’s opponent “Pete Coors” yields no hat pictures, and Coors actually receives a negative score for being pictured a number of times opposite a hat-wearing Ken Salazar.
There appears to be a definite trend. Former Governor Bill Owens wore one; Ritter wore one; former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell wore one, and Ken Salazar is, by far, the king of wearing one. It’s true: You can’t go through an election season without seeing some urban lawyer trying to emphasize his “rancher roots” by wearing an obviously newly-purchased cowboy hat. But my intensely scientific test does seem like it actually works. So what are the numbers for Mark Udall and Bob Schaffer?
Shit. No luck with the Hat Test™ this time around. Thus, we head to our second test:
2. The Oncoming Train Test™
This race is following a recurrent trend for recent Colorado statewide elections, which can be explained as follows: Winning these elections comes down to not stepping into the path of an oncoming train. Democratic candidates have stood quietly at a distance while Republican candidates have wandered around, tripping directly over the tracks. The public simply casts their votes for whoever still has their feet attached to their body by the time the train leaves.
In order to substantiate this thinly-crafted analogy, allow me to give some examples.
Bill Ritter mostly clinched the election in 2006 by not disembarking from the Democratic coattails of that year. As purposefully centrist as they come, he just needed to walk around and be inoffensive for the few months preceding Election Day. His opponent, Bob Beauprez, was largely handicapped by allegations of breaking some pesky federal laws and an unfortunately suggestive nickname gathered during the primary process, “Both-ways Bob.”
Ken Salazar’s 2004 victory was hardly any different. His opponent, notable statesman (read: beer company heir) Pete Coors, suffered heavy policy attacks in the Republican primary and struggled to legitimize himself as Senate-worthy. This race was closer than Ritter’s, but in order to secure a victory, Salazar (Attorney General for the State of Colorado at the time) just had to step back and let Coors’s speeches accentuate the fact that the Republicans picked a Senate candidate who was not Senate material.
This brings us to the current race. I watched the recent debate between Udall and Schaffer, with Schaffer the clear “winner.” He had great theatrics and a spectacularly better opening than Udall, who began by announcing that, like his other children, he was preparing to send his youngest child to some East Coast university. Honestly, it’s hard to segue into debating Colorado’s higher education policy when you’ve already highlighted how your family has actively avoided it. Still, Schaffer’s comments, while better crafted, also turned out to be largely fabricated.
It’s plain to see that this race is falling right in line with the past. Schaffer is coming out strong, guns ablaze, but he’s shooting his own feet more than anything else. Udall just stands back and watches. Boringly.
If I was consulted to help Schaffer (which I won’t be), I would say this: Step back and be boring, please, if only for this race. You’re Colorado’s only hope for some fantastic, Senate-level crashing-and-burning, but you have to wait until you get there.
Oh, and seriously, buy a hat.