Sen Allard calling it quits

Sen. Wayne Allard said Monday that he will honor his term-limits pledge and leave at the end of 2008, creating a replacement fight that should turn Colorado into one of the country’s biggest electoral battlegrounds.

“I just didn’t think I could back away from the (term limits) commitment. It is a matter of integrity and keeping your commitments. I have never wavered on that,” Allard told the Rocky Mountain News.

Allard, 63, faced friendly pressure from fellow Republicans who wanted him to run again. That’s because open-seat contests can be much more difficult — and costly — for a party to defend.

But he also was tugged by the promise he made in 1996 to serve no more than two U.S. Senate terms.

The term-limits pledge was a relic of the so-called “Republican Revolution” of the 1994 election, when the GOP swept to power promising to change the ways of Washington.

As time passed, some one-time leaders of the movement — including Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and others who signed pledges, such as former Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo. — abandoned their promises in the name of continuing public service. Others, such as former Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., lived up to their pledge and went home.

In October 2002, when Allard’s rematch against Democrat Tom Strickland still was in doubt, it was suggested that the senator was hedging on his term-limits pledge.

“I’m term-limited,” Allard said in reaction. “That has always been my position. I’ve always said I believe in limiting my term. I’ve stipulated in past campaigns that I believe in term limits, and I’ve never wavered on it.”

He went on to beat Strickland, just as he had in 1996. But in later years, Allard avoided making definitive statements about the term-limits pledge, especially after Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s abrupt retirement led to a Republican seat falling into the hands of Democrat Ken Salazar.

“Whoever runs, whether it’s me or some (other Republican) candidate who will be running, we’ll be facing a tough race in Colorado,” Allard said recently. “I’ve always faced tough races before. … I’m used to being an underdog.”

There’s a long list of potential candidates for Allard’s seat, including Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat, and various Republicans, such as outgoing Gov. Bill Owens, Tancredo, McInnis and Schaffer.

Even before Allard’s decision, the Cook Political Report and The Washington Post political blog had called Colorado’s 2008 Senate contest one of the top races to watch.

An anticipated retirement by Allard was one reason, but analysts also pointed to Democratic gains in Colorado and other Western states.

The 2008 contest will happen in a presidential-election year, and some Democrats are urging their party to pick a presidential nominee who reflects Western values. If so, that could give the party’s Senate candidate some coattails to ride.

Allard has been more folksy than flashy during his 24 years in elective office, starting with eight years in the state Senate, six years in the U.S. House and, so far, 10 years in the U.S. Senate.

“Senator Allard’s great political strength was that Coloradans could look at him and say, ‘He is like me. He works hard every day.’And I think there’s a commonality between Coloradans and Sen. Allard that we haven’t seen many times in elected officials,” said Republican consultant Dick Wadhams, who managed Allard’s Senate campaigns in 1996 and 2002.

Allard has been a champion of fiscal discipline and traditional social values. That included two unsuccessful bids to pass a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In recent years, Allard often cast predictable, party-line votes with fellow Republicans, and he was known as one of the more reliable allies of President Bush’s White House.

Allies liked to say Allard has been a “workhorse” rather than a “show horse” in Congress. Still, Time magazine in 2005 dubbed him “The Invisible Man” and one of the five “worst” U.S. Senators.

Longtime Allard chief of staff Sean Conway dismissed the ranking as “laughable,” citing the senator’s accomplishments, including cutting years off the schedule for cleaning the former nuclear weapons plant at Rocky Flats near Denver; defending the state’s military installations from base closings and spearheading the investigation into sexual assaults at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Allard was the only one of the nine-member state delegation to sit on an appropriations committee, a strategic place for securing federal funds for the state. Salazar, a first-term senator, already has expressed an interest in an appropriations seat, although the positions are hard to come by.

But Allard might be remembered just as much for his down-home appeal and affable manner than his legislative record.

Allard played up his roots as a veterinarian and small-business man. He bragged about being a member of the two-person Senate Veterinarian Caucus, and he sometimes examined colleagues’ dogs in his Senate office.

Meanwhile, he lightened up his policy speeches by lacing them with yarns about his experience running the Allard Animal Hospital back in Colorado.

For example, his appeal for reforming the nation’s health-care system included his story about being stuck with a high out-of-pocket expense for surgery after he hurt his back lifting Great Danes and other heavy dogs onto his examination table.