The Denver Post hosted a debate among the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate on Tuesday. We watched the entire debate and graded the candidates on stage, as we have done for previous debates.
On the stage tonight, from left to right: Robert Blaha, Ryan Frazier, Darryl Glenn, Jack Graham, and Jon Keyser.
This debate was among the more awkward that we’ve seen in the last 10 years. It didn’t help that the event came on the heels of some late-breaking news about the signatures of dead people appearing on Jon Keyser’s petitions for ballot access. For some reason, all five candidates seemed to be on-edge and particularly chippy with the moderators, Molly Hughes and Chuck Plunkett of the Post.
In fairness to the candidates, some of the questions were far too wordy and the moderators didn’t make much of an effort to keep candidate answers even remotely related to the questions. Plunkett was particularly reluctant to stop Keyser from speaking over his allotted time or talking when it wasn’t his turn; Plunkett looked like an unfunny sitcom dad trying to get the attention of his teenage daughters.
And now, the debate grades…
Colorado Pols Debate Diary
Grading the May 17 Republican Senate Debate with the Denver Post
Blaha really took control of the last debate, both early and often, but on Tuesday he disappeared early before coming back strong in the latter half of the debate.
Blaha has figured out that it is important to take up as much camera time as possible in these debates — particularly when there will be so (relatively) little money spent on TV ads — and he’s done an excellent job of keeping himself in the middle of the conversation.
Blaha also prompted one of the more memorable exchanges of the evening when he attacked Graham over his performance review after being fired from CSU as Athletic Director a few years back; the attack clearly flustered Graham.
On the downside, Blaha had some pretty iffy moments in talking about the Latino community in Colorado. He said things like, “We have Hispanics in our family,” and then a few minutes later referenced the “Spanish Community.” He also tried unsuccessfully to pronounce the word “barrios,” which he apparently thinks exist in abundance in Colorado.
Overall, Blaha probably gained the most from tonight’s performance in terms of where he was at and what he needed to accomplish. He also had the most nonsensical comment of the evening, which is always important for amusement purposes; Blaha said he wanted to change America to a flat tax, and he’d “sell it” to the American people by making the marketers at Coke and Pepsi work together.
If you want to rile up Jack Graham, just ask him about his performance reviews from two years ago when he was fired as Athletic Director at Colorado State University. Graham was cruising along just fine until Robert Blaha asked him about this “performance review” which will now undoubtedly be sought by multiple reporters in the next 24 hours. Graham did not handle the question well, at one point mumbling something about a fake copy of some sort.
Graham was otherwise fairly strong tonight and easy batted away some obvious attempts from Jon Keyser to engage him in some sort of specific policy point that we never really caught. He also handled well a couple of attacks on his prior record as a registered Democrat.
The negatives for Graham were a few odd statements that he never really tied together. He told a convoluted, hard-to-follow story about how he has “actually lived in a universal healthcare system” and that it was horrible and thus he opposes Amendment 69.
Graham also spit out this odd sentence: “There should be no public funding for abortion consulting.” Whatever that means.
And then there was this beauty: “If I am elected to the Senate, I would be fourth straight Republican to win who was formerly a Democrat” (we’re not sure we’d repeat this in advance of a Republican Primary, but it is actually a true statement; Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell, Wayne Allard, and Cory Gardner were the first three).
Graham and Blaha seemed to get the most camera time tonight, and both men generally performed well as a result.
This was not Darryl Glenn’s finest performance. Glenn has shown himself to be a charismatic speaker in previous GOP Senate forums, but he showed again tonight that he struggles when forced behind a podium (especially when the podium setup made Glenn look a good foot shorter than all of the other candidates). Glenn does better when he can be on his feet, walking around on stage in a jovial manner.
Glenn did get a few good digs in at Jon Keyser over the fraud and forgery questions; Glenn and Keyser are both Air Force Academy graduates, and Glenn brought up the “Honor Code” of the Air Force in asking Keyser to withdraw if more revelations of ballot fraud put him under the number of required signatures (1,500 per congressional district).
“I will not drop out of this race,” replied Keyser.
“I’m sure the Academy is pleased with that answer,” said Glenn.
Glenn took several integrity-related shots at Keyser throughout the evening, all of which seemed to cause some damage:
“We cannot send a rookie to do an important job.”
“That’s why integrity is so important. I hold the Air Force Academy values dear to my heart.”
Outside of Jon Keyser, nobody ducked more questions than Ryan Frazier. He didn’t answer many of the Yes or No questions, particularly about overturning Roe v. Wade and a question about LGBT equality in bathrooms. Like many of the candidates, he frequently reverted to “states rights” as the answer to every tough question.
The only time that Frazier showed a hint of fire was in talking about the petition process that he is still challenging in order to remain a viable Primary candidate.
Frazier did, however, take part in perhaps our favorite weird moment of the evening when he answered a “Yes of No” question about supporting Donald Trump:
“Depends,” replied Frazier.
Plunkett makes a half-assed attempt to complain that he didn’t answer “Yes or No”
“Hey, that’s a product,” smiles Blaha.
We can only guess that he was talking about “Depends” adult diapers.
Keyser has performed so poorly in every debate thus far that watching him flail around on stage tonight isn’t a particular surprise. But Keyser was in rare form even for him, stumbling right out of the gate with an awkward attempt to get ahead of the ballot fraud story before questions began. When you have a growing reputation for refusing to answer questions, it probably isn’t a good idea to actively try to cement that reputation.
We’d have to go back and watch a recording to double-check this, but it sure seemed like Keyser ducked every question in order to skip to his “talking points” about how Michael Bennet is a big meany and about his military experience and how national security is the most important issue of all the issues.
Keyser also repeatedly tried to pick a fight with Jack Graham, and repeatedly took a counterpunch right to the chin. It was like watching a child burn their fingers on a hot stove over and over again. “There you go again, Jon,” said Graham. “Even if it’s not true, just say it.”