GOP Senate contenders match wits, witticisms

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

LAKEWOOD — Republican U.S. Senate candidates united in a vow to stem the tidal wave of Democratic deficit spending in Congress at a forum Tuesday sponsored by Colorado Christian University. They voiced grave concerns about the direction of the country — but the gravity was lifted by a few humorous exchanges.

Republican U.S. Senate candidates businessman Cleve Tidwell, former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, former state Sen. Tom Wiens, and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck do a little meet-and-greet before the candidates’ forum sponsored by Colorado Christian University.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

The GOP U.S. Senate hopefuls — former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, businessman Cleve Tidwell and former state Sen. Tom Wiens, of Castle Rock — answered a wide range of questions on topics ranging from rescuing the economy to stabilizing Afghanistan to preserving cultural values.

They all agreed that Americans distrust their federal government and fear economic instability created by massive deficit spending on the stimulus package, bailouts to the financial industry and the potential passage of health care reform.

They joined in a chorus of opposition to the health care reform bill that narrowly passed the lower house of Congress on Nov. 7. The candidates mutually supported sending more troops to Afghanistan, although Tidwell said he opposes “unconstitutional wars” there and in Iraq.

The forum offered the four candidates an opportunity to define their individual goals, beliefs and experience — and to deflect criticism and address potential problems.

Wiens — the long-awaited newcomer to the race — passed the challenge of showing commitment to his campaign and dispelled concerns that he might offer a Fred Thompson fizzle-and-fade candidacy. (Last year, the former Tennessee U.S. senator joined the presidential campaign cast as the “great Republican hope,” but Thompson proved to be a better “Law & Order” actor than debater.)

Former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton answers a question about the economic recession as former state Sen. Tom Wiens listens during the Republican U.S. Senate candidates’ forum sponsored by Colorado Christian University.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

“My education is actually in theology,” said Wiens, who earned his Masters of Divinity from Yale University. “If you think about it, that’s really the perfect education to be a United States senator.

“If you’re in business, you have to be in a constant state of prayer... If I’m elected to the U.S. Senate, I’ll definitely be in a constant state of forgiveness,” he said to hearty laughter from the audience.

Wiens, who had officially launched his candidacy five days earlier, vowed to fight for middle-class “forgotten Americans,” who, he said, will get the bill for federal corporate bailouts on Wall Street and handouts to stimulate the economy on Main Streets across the country.

“Send people to Washington who will work for you — not take from you,” he implored.

Norton stressed her Colorado roots in a move to combat critics of her Washington ties, and she vowed to bring Western values and common sense to bear as she changes politics and policies on Capitol Hill.

Adams County GOP Chair former state Rep. Mary Dambman with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cleve Tidwell.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen
The Colorado Statesman

“I’m running as a proud third-generation native Coloradan,” said Norton, who grew up on the Western Slope.

She also demonstrated her knowledge on key issues, often reeling off facts and figures.

In response to a question about the eight-year war in Afghanistan, Norton said the United States should stay and get the job done.

“It’s a very, very difficult war because of the regional tribal alliances. But as you look at a nuclear-armed Pakistan, it’s very important for us to ensure that our allies and friends in Afghanistan have our support,” said Norton.

She said she hopes President Barack Obama will heed the advice of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who called for additional troops in Afghanistan last month.

“I pray that President Obama leads on this issue, because every day that we tarry, it makes it more difficult for our men and women overseas,” Norton said.

When asked, if elected, what committee she would prefer in the U.S. Senate, Norton said she is interested in natural resources and energy. However, she said a committee preference might be better determined by “how best I can serve the people of Colorado.”

Tidwell transformed a problem of having no political experience into an asset — declaring that it’s time to send a businessman to Congress to turn the economy around.

Ken Buck and former state Senate President John Andrews join for a photo. Andrews moderated the forum at the Colorado Christian University. After Andrews overlooked Buck in the candidates’ responses to a question, Buck warned, “John, don’t drive in Weld County anytime soon.”
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

“The direction we’re going and where this administration is taking us… (is) down a road of no return,” said Tidwell. “We’ve got some serious issues going on in our country, and, as a result, I watched it from the business world… and decided it’s time for me to get out of the private sector and get into the public sector.”

“People are scared. They’re afraid of their own government,” said Tidwell of the increased regulations and deficit spending offered by a Congress controlled by Democrats.

Citing a Rasmussen poll, Tidwell asserted that “80 percent of the people said that they didn’t trust people on either side of the aisle to solve our problems.”

Tidwell said he’s offering voters a choice to elect a businessman who knows how to balance a budget, make payroll and do the things that are necessary to restore the economy.

The solution to the economic crisis, Tidwell said, begins with restoring confidence in the United States economy.

“You have a choice,” declared Tidwell, who emphasized his business experience. “You don’t have to put a clone back in Washington… You do have a choice.”

Buck emphasized his conservative values, expressing his opposition to the principle of separating church and state and discussed international challenges.

Wendy Evans, a member of Jane Norton’s U.S. Senate campaign, with state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

On the issue of Afghanistan, Buck agreed with his Republican opponents, then listed more complex challenges.

“Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires,” said Buck. “So many foreign conquerors have gone to Afghanistan and tried to conquer that country but left in shame.”

Buck listed three priorities for the United States to achieve before withdrawing from Afghanistan: To ensure that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, to disrupt the heroin trade and to promote stability in the region.

“That’s the definition of victory,” declared Buck. “If we can achieve those things, I think we can get out sooner and save American lives.”

In a lighter moment, an exchange of wits between forum moderator former state Senate President John Andrews and Buck drew huge applause and uproarious laughter.

Andrews had overlooked Buck in a round of candidates’ answers to a question about whether the economic recession might signal the demise of capitalism. Realizing his mistake, Andrews apologized and waited for Buck’s response.

“John, don’t drive in Weld County anytime soon,” said Buck with a poker face.

“You have the floor, John — you have the whole floor,” assured Andrews with a grin.

The agreements and disagreements stayed true to form — even in naming a former U.S. president with whom they’d like to have dinner. The question had one proviso — they could not choose President Ronald Reagan.

“Teddy Roosevelt,” said Tidwell, whose answer was echoed by Norton and then by Wiens.

“Dwight Eisenhower,” declared Buck.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com