Republican incumbent Cory Gardner and Democrat John Hickenlooper faced off in the third of four U.S. Senate debates on Friday, hours after Colorado elections officials began mailing ballots to voters across the state.
The 90-minute faceoff, hosted by Denver7, The Denver Post and Colorado Public Radio, covered many expected topics: health care, immigration, Hickenlooper’s ethics violations and Gardner’s close ties to President Donald Trump.
But the two candidates in one of the nation’s most-watched contests this year also delved into some new territory. At times, both Gardner and Hickenlooper, Colorado’s former governor, evaded a number of tough questions, too.
Here are seven big takeaways from the debate:
Gardner on the offensive, swinging harder
Gardner, who polls have consistently shown is trailing Hickenlooper in the Senate race, used the first two debates to take verbal swings at Hickenlooper. Friday was no different, though Gardner seemed to be swinging harder, using a great deal of his time to press his opponent and attack him.
It makes sense: Part of Gardner’s plan to close the gap with Hickenlooper is to use the debates to show a clear contrast. And time is running out with Election Day only about three weeks away.
“You can’t trust John Hicknelooper,” Gardner said, pointing to Hickenlooper’s ethics violations.
Gardner also tried to paint Hickenlooper as self-centered. “It’s all about you and it’s got to stop,” he said at one point.
But Hickenlooper never really engaged, brushing off the attacks and saying Gardner was only going on the offensive because he is trailing and has a record he can’t defend. “I don’t think it’s going to stop at any point,” he said.
Hickenlooper added that he thinks Coloradans will “see right through” Gardner’s attacks.
“He knows his allegations really don’t carry much water,” Hickenlooper said. “… To distort statistics is really never going to get us anywhere.”
Gardner accused Hickenlooper of running the most negative campaign of his political career since the former governor has, for the first time, run attack ads. Hickenlooper said he felt he had to go negative because of all the money being spent against him.
Republicans’ U.S. Supreme Court push may box in Cory Gardner ~ THE COLORADO SUN
Cory Gardner’s reelection hinges on convincing the state’s crucial slice of independent voters he’s a nonpartisan problem-solver who will look out for the state
By Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press
Six years ago, Colorado Democrats failed to convince enough voters to reject Cory Gardner’s bid for the U.S. Senate. Their warnings that the Republican could, someday, be the confirming vote for a Supreme Court justice who could overturn Roe v. Wade proved ineffective.
Now Gardner, 46, is poised to be one of the votes that places President Donald Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court just before the election. And Democrats think they have the votes to punish him for it.
Gardner has long been considered both one of the nimblest Republican politicians and also one of the most vulnerable. His 2014 run was praised as the best Senate campaign that year for defusing Democratic attacks about his role in a “war on women” and staying on message. But he’s also a Republican in a state that has shifted sharply to Democrats since Trump was elected — the president lost the state by 5% in 2016 and then Democrats won the governorship by 11% and every other statewide race in 2018. Gardner has struggled to escape the president’s long shadow.
“Luck and timing are everything in politics, and Cory’s on the wrong end of all these elements,” said Mike Stratton, a Democratic strategist who advised the man Gardner ousted in 2014, Sen. Mark Udall.
Gardner is now up against John Hickenlooper, a popular former two-term governor of Colorado and Denver mayor.
Gardner’s reelection hinges on convincing the state’s crucial slice of independent voters he’s a nonpartisan problem-solver who will look out for the state. On the campaign trail, he’s emphasized his work on state-centric, uncontroversial issues — moving the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to western Colorado, co-writing a bill to fund maintenance at national parks and creating a national suicide prevention number.
“I vote 100% of the time for the people of Colorado,” Gardner said during a debate Friday evening..
But Gardner’s also been a reliable vote for his party under Trump. The president praised Gardner for being on his side “100% of the time” at a rally in February, and voters got another reminder of that when Gardner said he supports Barrett’s nomination. Republicans acknowledge that may be enough to prevent him from escaping Trump’s downward pull.
“I’m saying a prayer he doesn’t get swept out by our president,” said Linda Heintz, 71, a registered Republican in suburban Denver who plans to vote early for Gardner. Heintz still hasn’t decided whether she can vote for Trump but figured Gardner was a no-brainer.
“He’s done nothing to not deserve reelection,” she said, acknowledging she doesn’t think many others in the state agree with her view.