Quick takeaways and initial impressions--Schaffer clearly had the upper hand in the debate when it came to vociferous support (the Udall side was not full), a command of the issues and the details involved in policy, and in overall demeanor. Udall's answers were forced when they weren't simply regurgitations of campaign talking points, and his rebuttals routinely eschewed marked policy differences, and instead focused on rhetoric of "bipartisanship" and the notion that "we are all Coloradans, all Americans." Udall certainly didn't appear to be comfortable in his own skin appearing before the cameras and a somewhat more open style of Q&A, with questions drawn from email submissions to 9NEWS' Adam Schrager, who moderated the debate. Schaffer was on offense from the opening remarks, with Udall trying (and failing, miserably) to play catch-up.
As for the supporters themselves (and this will be revealed in the photos and video), Schaffer's proponents were motivated and loud--"fired up and ready to go." Udall's troops showed up much later, had very little presence inside the complex or on the street, and demonstrated a lack of coordination/organization and reflected poorly on a candidate up by 10 points in the latest polls. It will be interesting to see how the MSM plays the debate today--one that favored Schaffer in all meaningful aspects and really exposed Udall as a mediocre debater and Washington insider who would rather cater to special interests and promote delays and politicking with hashed reasoning (health care is a national security issue, ya know!) rather than dealing with issues head on.
Looking forward to the next debates, Udall faces quite a challenge. The format certainly favored Schaffer, and may be one of the reasons that the Udall campaign refused to sign on to Schaffer's debate series. It is clear Udall would prefer the closed-set, no-crowd debate format with canned questions from the host. To his credit Schrager ably kept the candidates in line and on topic, and dealt with unruly Udall supporters by threatening to halt the proceedings.
Painted into a corner by weeks of attack ads, Bob Schaffer came out swinging this morning in the first U.S. Senate debate of the season, accusing Mark Udall of flip-flopping and of being responsible for high gas prices.
Udall, a Democratic congressman from Eldorado Springs, rarely took the bait from his Republican opponent, responding most often that Congress must work together rather than continue its partisan bickering.
The topics of the debate, which drew a crowd of about 800 to the Wildlife Experience, ranged from energy to the Iraq war to the proposed expansion of Piñon Canyon military training area. But one theme seemed to emerge throughout the morning: Schaffer accusing Udall of being unwilling to make a decision and Udall responding that he prefers finding consensus rather than rushing into a bad decision.
Emblematic of this was a question over whether Colorado needs to extract oil shale from the ground. Udall said that while research is under way to determine the potential of oil shale, Colorado should not be turned into a "national sacrifice zone."
Schaffer responded: "This is part of the reason I'm running for Congress.... I do not believe constant delay is a strategy for America's energy independence."