We’ve been doing our best here at Colorado Pols to keep up with the various Republican Senate candidate debates around the state. As much as we love doing our “Debate Diaries” – and we really do – it takes a really, really, really long time to complete these things. So, today we’re trying something different.
Instead of dictating Wednesday’s Republican Senate debate sponsored by “The Republican Women of Weld County,” we thought it might be helpful to take a step back and analyze the discussion from a “winners and losers” format…but we’re not calling it that. Instead, we’ll hand out our “Debate Grades” from March 30th. There are around 13 candidates seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, but only half the field was in Weld County on Wednesday: Tim Neville, Robert Blaha, Darryl Glenn, Jon Keyser, Peg Littleton, Jerry Natividad, and this Jerry Eller guy.
Don’t worry – we’ll still include, verbatim, the more interesting quotes from each candidate. And BTW, if you like questions about fracking, this debate should be right up your alley. Let’s get to it…
The Jefferson County State Senator is the overwhelming favorite to win top ballot at the Republican State Convention on April 9, and his debate performance in Weld County showed exactly why Neville is such a heavy frontrunner. In Weld County, Neville made clear that nobody is going to flank him on the right wing in this race. Neville isn’t overly concerned with how his statements might appear in a General Election because his focus is razor-sharp on the Republican Primary. Right out the gate, Neville said that he was running for Senate in order to “be the next great conservative Senator from Colorado.”
Neville railed against government regulations that he claims hurt Colorado businesses, and spoke often of “faith, family, and freedom,” serving up big fat chunks of red meat to his Republican audience. Neville didn’t hesitate in pledging to completely eliminate entire government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Education. Neville also made a point of talking about sticking to his principles where the budget is concerned. “Yes, I may have to vote against things that maybe affect my district, that maybe take a little bit of the pork out of my district,” said Neville. “And I can tell you, I will do that. I will do that. Because that’s the right thing for our kids and our grandkids, and that’s the right thing for the sustainability of the future of our state of Colorado.”
“I served in the state Senate, so…I have a track record, and a track record that you can actually check on. And I’ve also been in a situation where I’ve had to win a tough race. And of course that victory gave us control in a lean-Democratic district, and gave us control of the state Senate for the first time in over a decade.”
“Well the most important thing is to take back the proper role and responsibility of the U.S. Senate. I’m not running for dogcatcher, I’m not running for president. I’m running for the U.S. Senate. So let’s focus there. When you get into the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Senate has always been the upper house that blocks bad legislation. We’ve given up too much power in the U.S. Senate to the president and also, by not using the confirmation process correctly, we’ve created tremendous problems on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“Your faith, your family, and then your freedom. Those are the things that really ring true [with Coloradans], and everybody is concerned about that.”
“[There is] a war on oil, gas, and coal right now in Colorado.”
[On fracking]: “This is a private property rights issue…if it’s under a person’s property, that’s your private property.”
Glenn has continually impressed us during this campaign as an articulate and charismatic speaker. That’s not going to be nearly enough to get him elected – and it might not even get him on the June 28 Primary ballot – but Glenn has a definite presence about him that could pay off in another run for higher office down the line. Glenn does have a good chance of making the Primary ballot through the State Convention next week, and if he can use that boost to raise real money, he might just have a chance in this race.
Much like Neville, Glenn is singularly focused on winning a Republican Primary, and he tapped into a similar theme as Neville by repeatedly talking about how “people are tired of politicians saying one thing and then getting in office and selling out and not listening to their constituents.”
Glenn was also the only Republican candidate to regularly bring up his belief that Climate Change and Global Warming are nonsense. Glenn has consistently tried to own this narrative as the GOP candidate who most often discusses the fallacy of science.
“I’m going through the assembly process because I believe in grassroots campaigns. That’s what’s important. I just want you to understand that I will listen to each and every one of you. And your message is consistent across the state. People are tired of politicians saying one thing and then getting in office and selling out and not listening to their constituents.”
“We’ve had seven years of hope and change, and all we have left is change in our pocket.”
“History is written with people that had their freedoms taken away from them. And you need to make sure that you do whatever is necessary to fight to maintain the privilege of being free.”
[On fracking]: “Show me the data. If you are concerned, if you think that this is hurting our community, show me the data.”
“That’s why I get so frustrated with the Climate Change people. Show me the data. Let’s have that discussion about that.”
“I will defund Planned Parenthood. I will make sure that we kill sanctuary cities. We need to make sure we defund those, too.”
This was the first time we’ve heard Natividad on the debate stage – he has only been an official candidate for a couple of weeks – but it was easy to understand why he has his share of supporters. Natividad is comfortable and funny on stage. His anecdotes, particularly about Rocky Ford, Colo., are folksy and not forced. He seems to have a character about him that would probably translate well to television ads.
It’s hard not to listen to Natividad and wonder why he waited so long to enter this race. Natividad has a good presence on stage, but he clearly needs to study up on the issues instead of relying on outdated talking points (such as the old “run government like a business” canard). He can also appear to be trying too hard to ingratiate himself to the audience on a particular answer; at one point Natividad showered praised on BP for how the oil and gas company handled the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
This is Natividad’s first run for office, and it would have been interesting to see what Natividad could have done with three months of practice as a candidate instead of just three weeks. Natividad will likely be back on his couch in another 10 days unless he can pull off a hell of a trick to gain ballot access through the State GOP Convention.
“If I ran my business the way the government runs its business, I’d be out of business or in jail.”
“One of the things I’m absolutely willing to do – committed to do – is to introduce a Balanced Budget Amendment.”
“I think back to the Gulf of Mexico, when British Petroleum had their oil spill, and how responsive British Petroleum was in helping rendering that situation.”
“This technology that the oil companies have brought to our communities is safe and it’s proven itself to be a non-impact on the environment.”
Blaha is an interesting candidate to follow. He often tends to fade into the background, but every now and then, he pops up and sounds like the kind of candidate who could really make a run at Bennet. Blaha’s answer on reducing the size of government was the best of the bunch, with specific numbers and figures backing up his proposals and smart analogies to make his ideas more accessible to a large audience.
As a successful businessman with four daughters at home, Blaha is never lacking for personal anecdotes. He also often comes across as one of the more even-minded candidates. Check out his response on reducing the size of government: “It’s nice to say that, to say we’re going to shut down the Department of Education, we’re going to reduce the size of the EPA, we’re going to go after the Department of Commerce. I agree with all of those things. But the question is how do we do it? We have to take the same concepts that many of us every day have been through in our industries, in our organization, and put them in place. If we don’t do that, we can talk and talk and talk. But we have to have new abilities, new capabilities, and actually implement these things to make them happen.”
“The permanent political class put us here, and I’m going to propose tonight ideas — not complaints, not worrying about the other side, but you will hear from me specific, concrete ideas on what we need to do to fix America.”
“Fracking is as safe as it can possibly be. It is a proven science. It is a non-negotiable issue. It is black and white. Then why aren’t we there?”
Keyser was better in the Weld County debate than he has been in previous forums – he was absolutely terrible in the first GOP debate at the University of Denver – but he still has a long way to go to be a viable statewide candidate. Keyser is clearly running on a National Security platform, which fits his Air Force background, but it is almost comical how much he leans on this message. Being disciplined about staying on message is important, but Keyser tries too hard to shoehorn his military service into every answer…even when it doesn’t seem to have any relevance to the question.
My favorite ice cream flavor? I’m glad you asked that question. When I served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I ate a lot of rainbow sherbet, but I’m not sure if that qualifies as “ice cream.”
Keyser also struggles with his phrasing of certain answers. “As a U.S. senator,” said Keyser, “I will make sure I travel around the state and I will talk to people about the miracle that is a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” The “miracle” of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing? Perhaps this is Keyser’s way of throwing red meat at the audience, but it doesn’t fit. It gets worse when he starts trying to explain the oil markets; Keyser implied at one point that it was Michael Bennet’s fault that oil prices are so low because of something to do with Iran. That’s…not how that works.
When you listen to Keyser on stage, you often get the impression that he doesn’t really understand the issues he’s discussing. In response to a question about reducing the size of the federal government, for example, Keyser barfed out this word salad: “Well, we’re fortunate, because we have a blueprint for how to do this right, and it’s in our Constitution, and it outlines exactly what our federal government is supposed to do, and it outlines in the 9th and 10th Amendment that if it’s not in the federal Constitution, it’s up to the states and individuals to decide in this country what we need to do.” This is the kind of statement that is going to get rammed right back down his throat on the issue of whether the Senate should do its Constitutional duty and hold hearings for a Supreme Court vacancy. You can’t be “Captain Constitution” and also support Republican efforts to refuse to even discuss any Supreme Court nominee put forth by President Obama.
This isn’t the only example where Keyser’s rhetoric gets jumbled. As the discussion turned toward fracking, Keyser made a point to tell the audience about how he grew up on the Western Slope during the “oil shale boom” of the early 1980s. This boom went bust pretty quickly, and it had nothing to do with federal regulators, as this Denver Post perspective explains:
Exxon’s corporate board at the time decided that company profits trumped national security, and the oil shale industry collapsed overnight. Some 2,300 workers lost their jobs that infamous “Black Sunday.” By the end of summer 1982, more than 5,000 residents had left the area between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, and a severe regional economic depression set in.
Keyser may be trying to bring up the Shale Boom as way to demonstrate his connections to the oil and gas industry, but this is not a particularly good example to bring up when praising fracking.
“Michael Bennet wants to bring the world’s most dangerous terrorists out of Guantanamo Bay. He wants to – he wants to probably have them come to the United States and likely…right down in Florence, Colorado. We can’t have that. We can’t have that.” [*NOTE: Keyser has used this line of attack on Bennet in the past, and Politifact has already labeled it as “FALSE.”]
“Terrorists belong in Guantanamo Bay, and let me tell you what – if I’m your next United States Senator, Guantanamo Bay will be open for business and business will be booming.”
“I grew up on the Western Slope, and my parents were 18 and 19 when they got married. My dad was a construction worker. He didn’t work in the oil and gas industry, but we lived in the Durango and Bayfield area because Amoco was down there and just about everybody worked for Amoco because the shale boom was going on.”
“I am in favor of fracking.”
Eller has absolutely no chance of winning the Republican Senate nomination, but his enthusiasm for being a Senate candidate is contagious. Eller is clearly enjoying himself, and he actually has some interesting policy ideas; some of his plans seem a bit farfetched, but at least he’s not just regurgitating the same old talking points and he gives the impression that he has really put some thought into these subjects.
“I call it the Government Reduction Act on my website. My first goal is to change the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Information Technology. We shut down the Department of Education to give all of the money back to the states. We shut down the Department of Energy
“We can build magnetic trains. Did you know that? We can build magnets on a track and trains can just shoot across this country through magnets.”
“I’ve never been to Greeley.”
Littleton is one of those candidates who seems to turn into a caricature of themselves. Are we listening to “Peggy Littleton, El Paso County Commissioner,” or is this “Peg Littleton, candidate for U.S. Senate?” Littleton talks a lot, drops a lot of names, and leaves no doubt that she has political experience (whether this has any relevance to the U.S. Senate is where she runs into trouble). When she is “Peg” Littleton, she becomes this silly character who says weird shit with points that don’t connect to each other.
Littleton has a penchant for firing off forceful statements that may not come across in the manner she hopes, and she contradicts herself often. In answering a question about fracking, she railed against local control efforts in Colorado before saying this: “I quite honestly don’t know that I would want the federal government to be involved in that, because it’s a local control matter.”
One of our favorite Littleton lines came up again in Weld County. Littleton was a member of the State School Board when Michael Bennet was the superintendent of Denver Schools. Apparently she argued with Bennet about something, and that makes her the only candidate to “have sparred with Bennet.”
“There have been earthquakes long before we ever did fracking,” she said. “Let’s be honest. You know God is kind of in control of those. And not by us drilling down in the ground and doing the fracking.”
“My gosh, you guys have energy independence and wealth here that El Paso County will unfortunately never have.”
“I do not believe that we should have energy sources that are subsidized by the federal government.”
“When people come and try to present their research and say that fracking causes earthquakes, I disagree with that vehemently. Because there’s been earthquakes long before we ever did fracking. Let’s be honest. You know, God was kind of in control of those. And not by us drilling down into the ground and doing, you know, the fracking.”
[On being the last candidate to give a closing statement]: “I could say something like they saved the best for last, but that may or may not be true.”