Heated debate marks dead-heat Senate race

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Colorado’s two U.S. Senate candidates took shots at each other in a testy final debate Oct. 23, just hours before a 9News/Denver Post poll was released showing Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and his Republican challenger, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, tied at 47 percent each among likely voters.

Buck and Bennet traded barbs, talked over one another and repeatedly pressed one another to answer questions during an hour-long televised debate broadcast live from KCNC-TV studios in Denver.

Sen. Michael Bennet carries his ballot from the voting booth Oct. 22 at the Denver Elections Division building. Bennet voted early with the help of his daughters, from left, Caroline, Anne and Halina.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The seventh debate between the nominees covered well-trod ground: Buck attacked Bennet for adding to the federal deficit, Bennet charged Buck with tempering “extreme” positions after winning the Republican primary, and both candidates decried the glut of negative advertising swamping state television sets. But despite Buck’s efforts to steer the discussion away from social issues, much of the discussion centered on abortion, gay marriage and an alleged rape charge Buck declined to prosecute in Weld County.

A Survey USA poll commissioned by the Post and 9News backed up analysts’ contentions that the Colorado race is among the closest in the country, showing a dead heat between the candidates with just over a week remaining before the election.

The survey released Oct. 24 depicts a tightening race with Bennet erasing Buck’s 5-point lead shown in the same polling outfit’s results three weeks earlier. The change was due in large part to a 21-point swing in Bennet’s favor among independent voters and a widening lead among women. The telephone poll of 621 likely voters was conducted Oct. 19-21 and had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points. A poll released the next day by Public Policy Polling showed identical results in the Colorado Senate race.

Bennet and groups boosting his campaign have been hammering Buck for weeks on issues designed to depict the Republican as “out of touch” on a range of issues. One ad aimed at Buck, suggested KCNC-TV “Reality Check” reporter Shaun Boyd, “would have us believe you’re a sexist.”

“There is a line, even in politics, you don’t cross,” Buck said, blasting a TV ad run by a third-party group that attacks his position on abortion and his decision not to prosecute an alleged 2005 rape case. “And unfortunately the line has been crossed.” Buck went on to defend his work prosecuting rape and domestic violence cases.

Bennet kept up the pressure on Buck. “I think what’s crossing the line is being a prosecutor and describing a victim in a rape case as having ‘buyer’s remorse,’” he said, later calling Buck “out of touch on these issues.”

One of the debate’s moderators, Gloria Neal, posed a question submitted by a viewer, who asked Buck: “Will you really make a raped child carry a child to term?” A brusque Buck reiterated that he was opposed to abortion and said the Senate has only voted on much narrower questions concerning abortion.

Pressed by Bennet — who described himself as “pro-choice” — Buck protested: “We get caught in these social issues when voters want to know about jobs, they want to know about unemployment, they want to know about spending,” he protested “And we get caught in social issues.”

Neal disagreed.

“The social issues are important to voters in this state,” she said. “I am one of them.”

Buck put it succinctly. “I am pro-life,” he said, “and I don’t believe in the exceptions of rape and incest.”

A combative Bennet kept after Buck.

“You ran on those issues in the Republican primary,” he said, “and to abandon them now, I think, is just so cynical.” Bennet then went on to charge Buck’s economic views are “as far out of the mainstream” as Buck’s position on social issues.

Buck shot back that he wasn’t “the one who has accumulated $3 trillion in debt” and again labeled Bennet as out of touch.

When the candidates had the chance to pose questions to each other during the debate, Bennet asked Buck again about the implications of his position on abortion.

“If you criminalize abortion in case of rape and incest, who’s going to jail?”

Buck shook his head. “I don’t think abortion’s going to be criminalized anytime soon,” he maintained, and then shot back at Bennet. “You have once again tried to take this debate off topic,” he said.

Both candidates talked over one another and argued whether Buck had answered Bennet’s question. Then Buck gave what would turn out to be the final answer on abortion at the debate.

“Once again, I am going to focus my campaign on the issues Colorado voters care about, and care about deeply. I have said I am pro-life, and I don’t believe in the exceptions for rape and incest. I am hopeful we can work together as a country to reduce abortions,” Buck said.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com