Democrat Udall wins Colorado open Senate seat |

Democrat Udall wins Colorado open Senate seat

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and his wife Maggie Fox acknowledge supporters at a Democratic Victory party in Denver, Colo., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. Udall took an early lead in his race with Republican Bob Schaffer for a U.S. Senate seat. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER ” Democrat Mark Udall, a strong environmental advocate, defeated Republican Bob Schaffer, a former congressman aligned with his party’s conservative wing, in their battle for Colorado’s open Senate seat, one of only five nationwide.

Udall, 58, succeeds two-term Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, who is retiring.

“I confess to you, this is the toughest climb I’ve ever taken,” Udall, an avid mountaineer, told supporters in Denver.

“This isn’t about advancing Democratic ideas or Republican ideas but it’s about advancing the best ideas and having the courage to see them through,” he said.

With 33 percent of the projected vote counted, Udall, who has served in the House since 1997, led Schaffer 54-42 percent.

His win gave Colorado two Democratic senators for the first time since the mid-1970s, when Gary Hart and Floyd Haskell served together.

Schaffer called to congratulate his opponent. “He ran a great campaign, he ran a strong campaign, he’s going to make a great United States senator and we all owe him our support,” he later told a crowd at a GOP party.

The race was watched nationally because it provided Democrats another chance to build their majority in the Senate. Debates between the two were heated, with the more low-key Udall and the more hard-charging Schaffer struggling to talk over each other at times.

Udall drew his strength from moderates, according to an Associated Press poll of voters over the past week. Schaffer drew support from evangelical Christians and his strongest base of support was in eastern Colorado, an area he represented when he was in Congress.

Hispanic voters and those concerned about the war in Iraq, the economy and health care overwhelmingly supported Udall. A majority of voters who rated the nation’s energy as their No. 1 concern backed Schaffer.

The ferocity of the Senate fight was broadcast in hard-hitting TV and radio ads financed by combined campaign spending of more than $17 million.

Environmental and left-leaning groups weighed in with jabs at Schaffer as “Big Oil Bob” because of his votes while in Congress and his work for a Denver energy company.

During the campaign, ads by Schaffer and independent political groups accused Udall of blocking domestic energy production by opposing drilling.

Udall has tempered his opposition to offshore oil drilling but maintained his go-slow approach to commercial oil shale development and backing for renewable energy.

Schaffer said, “The country took a gigantic leap to the left tonight.” As he did on the campaign trail, the Republican said he’s worried about dominance by one party in Washington, D.C.

A member of one of the West’s most prominent political families, Udall stressed his roots in a region where Democrats have had to play more to the center to get elected. His cousin, Rep. Tom Udall, won New Mexico’s open Senate seat.

Schaffer, who represented eastern Colorado’s 4th Congressional District from 1997 to 2003, insisted his principles of small government and low taxes are centrist and that the country needed the kind of balance a senator like himself would provide.

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