It’s time to fire up the Colorado Pols Debate Diary once again. That's right, friends: It's live-blog time!
It has become something of a tradition here at Colorado Pols for us to give you, our loyal readers, a live blog, play-by-play of political debates in Colorado. This afternoon we are live-blogging a video replay of Saturday's first U.S. Senate debate between Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Cory Gardner. You've seen some clips from Saturday's Club 20 debate in Grand Junction, and you may have followed some of the action on Twitter.
We didn't go to Grand Junction on Saturday evening, but we were able to get our hands on a full recording of the Udall/Gardner debate. Since this is the first time we are watching the debate as it unfolds, this really is live in one sense of the word; we'll be updating the diary below in real time as we watch the video. In other words, the debate isn't "live," but our "live blog" is "live." Whatever — you get the point.
We will provide a link to the full debate video as soon as a public version becomes available (we don't want to download and host the entire video ourselves because of space limitations).
*NOTE: The most current update appears at the top of the page. As always, unless it is in direct quotes, consider all statements paraphrased in the interest of time.
While neither Mark Udall nor Cory Gardner was particularly impressive during their first debate, there were clear contrasts drawn on Saturday. Gardner seemed to stick to a pre-debate strategy that revolved around saying "Obama" as many times as possible and otherwise dancing around any specific question. Udall was not as commanding as he has been in the past, but he was devastatingly effective when he calmly pointed out inconsistencies in Gardner's record or his refusal to answer direct questions. Gardner clearly wants to stay out of the weeds on specific policy questions, and that's a reasonable strategy, but he needs to recognize when his "strategy" is starting to backfire; Gardner is painting himself into a corner by repeatedly offering up answers of little substance, because it doesn't take long before it becomes more theme than strategy. This was also — theoretically, at least — friendly territory for Gardner, but he failed to take advantage of that atmosphere by not adjusting and adapting his strategy during the debate. Gardner needed a 'Win" here; there was less at stake for Udall, but he pulled out the victory anyway. We're very interested to see how each candidate changes their approach heading into the next big debate.
Closing comments for Udall: There are stark contrasts between our records and our positions. Udall briefly mentions all of the protections and positive legislation he has been a part of during his career.
Udall hits back on Gardner's dodge of social issues: "Congressman, these aren't social issues. These are economic issues." Big response from crowd.
"Do we work together, or do we shut down the government?"
Talks a lot about water, which is a key issue in Western Colorado that Gardner did not bring up enough.
Closing statement for Gardner: Says all Udall campaign talks about is social issues. Doesn't mention that Udall talks about social issues because Gardner keeps screwing up his response to those questions.
Gardner talking about innovation and a nation rising and getting government out of the way to let America work. Says we have big shoes to fill, and the most important shoes are those that belong to the next generation. That could have come off much better if he didn't take so long to get it out.
Udall looks irritated that Gardner continues to refuse to answer any of his questions, so he tries another: You went to Washington to shut down the government after touring Colorado after last year's floods…"
Gardner says something about making a political statement out of a tragic story — doesn't answer question. Again.
Udall: Why have you worked time and time again against Western Slope water interests, and why did you propose Amendment 52 in 2008?
Gardner: Tries defending Amendment 52, which was soundly rejected by Colorado voters.
Udall: "I don't know what you were thinking?"
Forget what we just said about Udall having the quote of the night thus far. He just topped himself: "I think you can all hear that Congressman Gardner doesn't have an answer for this question…"
Udall's turn to ask questions. "How can families and women trust you when it comes to staying out of their personal healthcare decisions."
Gardner completely ducks this question and starts talking about working on improving the economy for women. Very transparently weak answer, which allows Udall to ask his question again.
This time, Gardner responds by talking about his "plan" to provide over-the-counter birth control products.
Gardner: You told a constituent recently that fracking keeps us locked into the old system. What did you mean by that?
Udall pauses to consider the question. To be fair, this is a pretty specific question that would be difficult to recall immediately without some sort of context. When he takes a breath and answers, he goes right back at Gardner: "I don't know who this constituent was. I have not seen this report (that you mentioned).You have had an interesting tendency in this debate, Congressman, to pull facts and statements and votes out of the air. Rather than try to divide us, why don't we work together to find solutions…"
This might be the quote of the night. Very good comeback to Gardner's attempt at a "gotcha" question.
Gardner: You told the American people that if they liked their health care plan, they could keep it. When did you know that this wasn't going to be true?
This is a good question from Gardner…and then he interrupts Udall, repeatedly, so that the Senator has no chance to actually answer the question. Gardner seems a bit too aggressive at this stage; every time he sets a trap for Udall, Gardner immediately offers him a way back out. Very weird.
"We're not going back to the old system (of health insurance)," says Udall with conviction.
Udall and Gardner are now talking over each other, back and forth, about whether we have government-run healthcare in the U.S. This is productive.
Udall: We had a healthcare system in this country that discriminated against women and wasn't working. You and your party refused to take action on this issue.
Udall gets big round of applause for this line: "Government-run healthcare does not exist in this country."
Gardner gets to ask question of Udall: Why did you say in 2008 that you wouldn't support government healthcare plan, but then you were a deciding vote for Obamacare?
People are getting a little punch-drunk in the room. This is deteriorating quickly.
So…why not jump right into cross-examination time?
Udall says Gardner did not support Simpson-Bowles act that would have addressed infrastructure improvements.
Gardner says he works forward to finding solutions about transportation, then explains why it is important to have effective and efficient transportation projects. Says he believes that there is "a direct nexus" between "energy use and highway transportation." You don't say. We need energy for cars? That's so weird!
"I believe a strong national transportation infrastructure is absolutely critical." Also, Cory Gardner likes puppies and rainbows and chocolate chip cookies.
Question: How do we fund transportation infrastructure with so many spending and tax cuts?
Udall kind of stumbles here. Says infrastructure development is critical, as well as education funding. "We're not setting the stage for our economy to grow."
A heckler interrupts Udall with an unintelligible comment. Udall pauses to wait for the heckler to quiet down, and the overall effect is to suck the energy right out of the room for both candidates. Everybody is getting tired at this point; some Club 20 representatives have been listening to candidate debates literally all day long.
Gardner: "You have voted with President Obama 99% of the time." DRIIINNNKKKK!!!
Udall: It takes real gumption to talk about a 99% voting record from someone who was called the 10th most conservative member of Congress.
Udall talks about recreation economy and its importance to Colorado. Says Gardner proposes selling off our public lands, which is not how we pass along our heritage to our children.
"You're approach — it takes us backwards. It's wrong. Why would you want to sell off our public lands?"
Gardner again mentions that Udall has voted with President Obama 99% of the time. DRINK!!!
Question about transferring public lands from the federal government.
Gardner with a good joke about Western Colorado versus Yuma, from where Gardner hails. "I love coming to Grand Junction because it looks just like Yuma…except for the mountains, and the trees, and the water." Gets good laugh from the crowd. This is the kind of outgoing personality that Gardner has largely kept quiet during the campaign but which National Republicans thought would be such a powerful tool in a statewide race. To this point in the campaign, Udall's team has kept Gardner's camp largely on defense, making it difficult for this side of Gardner to emerge.
"We ought to be protecting our public lands."
Udall: "I'm curious what problem facing our nation I haven't proposed."
Gardner [smiling]: "Me, too."
Lots of laughs from the crowd as Udall tries to keep talking.
Gardner: "My 'Four Corners' plan starts with economic growth. It's about creating opportunities for the people of Western Colorado. Because there's more to Colorado than just the Front Range."
In other words, Gardner plans to create economic growth by pandering to the Western Slope. Good luck with that.
Gardner says that unemployment in Mesa County is 6.3%, or "unacceptably high." Says economy is suffering because of too much debt and regulation from Washington D.C., then flips his notes back to the "platitudes" section. Says we should cut regulations and taxes. Says Obamacare is cutting small business jobs. Says we have seen "a war on coal," a phrase he may be contractually obligated to say thanks to the Koch Brothers.
Jay Seaton asks question about job growth and business regulation.
Udall says that he and Rep. Tipton worked on legislation to help ski industry. Says he worked on bills regarding logging and hydropower, and pushed EPA to clean up abandon mines. Says he stood up to VA so that veterans didn't have to travel out of Grand Junction for treatment. Says there is a lot we can do to work together and cut regulations.
Gardner: We have known about the threat of ISIL for months, and we're just now coming up with a strategy? Yeah, give it to him, Gardner! If only you were in Congress, maybe you could…oh, right, you are a Member of Congress.
Udall responds to ISIL question with very long, complex response that sounded good but wasn't particularly memorable.
Next question: How to protect citizens from terrorism while preserving our right to privacy.
Gardner: "That's why I have supported legislation to restrict government overreach." Um, okay.
Gardner then blames the rise of ISIS (or ISIL, or whatever the hell they call themselves) on President Obama for calling them the "jayvee team" (which happened only last week).
Udall responds to Gardner's laundry list of complaints by talking more about Gardner's inconsistent record on renewable energy. This is getting a bit tiresome on both sides. What began as a debate has become more of an airing of grievances.
Gardner got on a roll listing off a bunch of Udall votes that he disagrees with. Gardner is a good speaker, but in times like this, he kind of gets caught up in the moment and drifts away from his original point.
Gardner tries to respond with a joke. It fails.
"The last I checked we've been green…by different means." Lots of murmuring from the crowd.
That's right. Cory Gardner, candidate for U.S. Senate, tried to avoid a question about his own record by making a marijuana joke. Somewhere a fraternity is developing a new drinking game.
Not a great answer from Udall, who starts out with something about Colorado being a leader on energy and the environment.
Brings up recent Gardner ad in which Gardner claims to be a leader in renewable energy. The Associated Press blistered Gardner for his claim to have "launched Colorado's green energy industry." The AP says Gardner's law was repealed five years later and "deemed useless for not enabling a single project." So, that ad didn't work out so well.
Panel time! Over on the panel, panelist Kathy Hall asks a question about fracking and public lands.
Gardner: Big government, Obamacare, blah, blah, blah.
There's a fine line between sticking to a message and just yelling out buzzwords and phrases.
Gardner responds, meekly. "Make no doubt about it. I will protect senior's retirement. I will protect Medicare and Social Security."
In other words:
Your arm's off.
No it isn't.
Udall is on a roll: "I just want to ask you a question. Why would you vote for the Republican Study Committee budget which cut Social Security and would turn Medicare into a voucher program?"
Udall with another clean shot response: "Congressman, it takes a real set of brass to talk about cutting $750 billion out of Medicare when you actually voted for the Republican Study Committee budget to cut $800 billion out of Medicare which would have then been re-directing into tax cuts for millionaires. Your record is quite the opposite when it comes to protecting Social Security and Medicare."
Hecklers! A few people in the audience yell out random phrases like "When do we get to opt out?" and "Wall Street!"
Gardner goes first: "We must protect Social Security for future generations." Says we can do it by preventing Washington D.C. from borrowing Social Security revenues for other purposes. Says he will protect Social Security and Medicare. "I will stand up for Seniors and protect them."
Next question. Back to the panel to hear from Krystyn Hartman, who is a panelist. On the panel.
Question: How would you protect Social Security for future generations?
Udall hits back: "Your solution on health care was to shut the government down when we needed it the most. Your solution was to put insurance companies back in charge of health care."
Gardner accuses Udall of doing "The Washington Two-Step" for saying in 2008 that he wouldn't vote for government-sponsored healthcare and then later voting for Obamacare once he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Gardner responds: "There was never a vote to shut down the government, so I'd be interested in seeing that vote." Quickly switches topic from Obamacare to poor VA coverage for veterans.
This is the essence of Cory Gardner and his Senate campaign at its very core. Instead of trying to defend, or even just explain, his vote in October 2013 to shut down the federal government, Gardner just acts like it never happened. Gardner is on the record supporting the shutdown — with the full understanding that the move was made in a last-minute attempt to derail Obamacare. There's too much evidence, and too many previous quotes from Gardner, for him to seriously attempt to spin the events as if they didn't happen. But that seems to be Gardner's strategy with just a few weeks to go until ballots drop in the mail — say anything that makes you look good, whether it is true or not.
Gardner has turned into The Black Knight from the classic movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
King Arthur: Your arm's off!
The Black Knight: No it isn't.
King Arthur [pointing to arm on the ground]: Then what's that?
The Black Knight [after a long pause]: I've had worse.
Udall first to respond. Republicans had many years to respond to an insurance industry that is out of control, and they didn't. Talks about how eliminating pre-existing conditions has helped many people. Says Gardner has voted more than 50 times to get rid of Affordable Care Act because he wants to put insurance companies back in charge. Says Gardner voted to shut down the government last fall to make a political point about Obamacare; Udall says that vote took us backwards and was wrong for our state. There is much applauding.
Next question from Jay Seaton: What about the Affordable Care Act needs to be fixed or changed, and what would be the consequences of those changes?
Gardner spends about 30 seconds rattling off what he believes were bad votes by Udall. Trying to jam a little too much into a short space here.
Udall's turn. "Congressman, when the White House looks out the front lawn, the last person they want to see coming is me." Talks about CIA, NSA overreach. "When you talk about a balanced budget amendment — I'm the author of a balanced budget amendment that will work." Asks Gardner to join him in supporting the Simpson-Bowles plan.
Says he supports "pay as you go" budgeting. Says we are at the lowest domestic spending limits in 40 years. Udall then talks about how we need to work together to bring down the debt for our children, etc. Udall should avoid the platitudes and rhetoric that Gardner is using, because he comes off much stronger by responding with a litany of facts and specific legislation.
First question is about "money" and the national debt, presumably from Randy Stone (we can't see the panelists doing the paneling in this video).
Gardner answers first: Says he comes from a business background in Yuma. Says first step toward making economy solvent is to repeal Obamacare. Says we need to pass a balanced budget amendment, cut spending where it makes sense. Gardner then goes after Udall, saying that Udall "plucked the fiscal hawk that he says that he is." No idea what that means.
Gardner finishes by saying we need to "break the Washington stranglehold on spending."
"Somebody who votes 99% of the time with Barack Obama probably ought to find himself back in Colorado," concludes Gardner. That last line gets a smattering of applause, and Gardner stands there grinning like he just answered correctly during his round of the Spelling Bee.
Gardner has clearly prepared himself with a plethora of alliterative and rhyming one-liners. They sound pretty good, even if they mean nothing.
It's question time! We have four panelists, which the moderator describes eloquently as "our distinguished panel of panelists." Paneling tonight are: Randy Stone (KREX-TV); Jay Seaton (Grand Junction Daily Sentinel); Krystyn Hartman (publisher of "Grand Valley" magazine); and Kathy Hall (representing Club 20)
Udall: As Coloradans know, we don't just shut down and go home if we don't get everything we want. Nice little dig at Gardner for supporting the Oct. 2013 government shutdown.
Is it just us, or is the Club 20 logo a bit too busy on the eyes? The Club 20 sign is prominently displayed between the two candidates, and every time it catches our eye, we have to remind ourselves that it doesn't say "20 F."
Udall brings up Cory Gardner's role as a lead author of Amendment 52, a failed 2008 ballot measure that sought to divert severance tax revenue from oil and gas drilling to be used for road construction instead of water projects.
Udall says he'll never stop fighting for that essential liberty — the "freedom to be left alone."
Udall talking now about specific issues he has addressed that benefit the Western Slope. Says he championed a deal to allow Western Slope veterans to get VA services in Grand Junction instead of being forced to travel to Denver.
Now it's Mark Udall's turn. He starts out by thanking Gardner for his public service. Talks about how being on the Western Slope reminds him of his time as an instructor with Outward Bound. Says he is inspired by Colorado's optimism and drive.
Gardner: "Mark Udall represents the status quo in Washington." Back in late February, when Gardner first announced his intentions to run for Senate, we wondered how exactly Republicans planned to run an "anti-incumbent" campaign with a candidate who is himself an incumbent Congressman. The answer? Gardner just pretends he's not in Congress.
Gardner says you will hear two competing versions of how to lead Colorado. One is reliant "on bailouts, handouts, and cop-outs," says Gardner. Says Washington doesn't have the answers — says we in Colorado know better.
Personal story time! Gardner tells a tale about his grandparents driving to Portland, OR during WWII in order to find work as welders. Gardner says that his grandmother taught him how to weld. According to Gardner, the moral of this rambling story is that we have an obligation to do more for our children and grandchildren. So, if you aren't driving to Portland to be a welder, you aren't a real Coloradan. Or something. Gardner could use a better transition from story to moral.
Gardner: "I'm running for the U.S. Senate because I believe we need more Colorado in Washington, not more Washington in Colorado." For some reason that line draws a smattering of applause, even though it is completely nonsensical. Gardner has been the Congressman from CD-4 since first winning election in 2010; his CD-4 seat will likely be taken over by Republican Ken Buck, who won a competitive GOP Primary in June. By this logic, we will have "more Colorado in Washington" if Gardner loses to Udall, because the net change will be to replace a Washington-insider (Gardner) with a freshman Congressman (Buck).
Congressman Cory Gardner gets to speak first on account of winning the pre-debate coin flip. Do we really need to do a coin flip before every debate? Why not Rock/Paper/Scissors? Or… let's have the candidates take turns punching each other in the shoulder until someone gives up.
Gardner opens things up with his news anchorman baritone that makes him sound almost like a caricature of himself.
Moderator Rachel Richards is going over the rules for the audience. Hecklers are strongly discouraged from heckling, or else Richards says she will take speaking time away from the candidate who is not being heckled. Repeat heckling will result in a 15-yard penalty and a loss of downs.
The candidates have taken the stage at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction. It kind of looks like prom night at the Two Rivers — lots of glittery signs and balloons. Democrat Mark Udall is wearing his traditional Colorado campaign uniform: Jeans, boots, dark jacket, and bolo tie. Gardner is wearing a dark jacket and white button-up shirt, with light-brown dress pants and brown shoes. Neither candidate is wearing a necktie — focus groups long ago dismissed the idea of statewide candidates wearing neckties in public.