Senate debate divisive — from the candidates to the cheering sections

Bennet stresses his Colorado values; Buck portrays Senator as Washingtonian

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — Divisive sums up the second U.S. Senate debate between Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican candidate Ken Buck that drew several hundred folks to the Centennial Hall auditorium on Friday evening in El Paso County. The exchange between Buck and Bennet was cordial compared to the cheering — and booing — fans mostly seated in separate sections in the Pikes Peak Center.

Throughout the hour-long debate sponsored by KOAA-TV, Colorado Springs Gazette and the League of Women Voters, Buck accused Bennet of putting the interests of Democrats and powers in Washington, D.C. ahead of Coloradans. Bennet repeatedly touted his ties to Colorado and respect for Coloradans — distancing himself from the partisan politics on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Ken Buck enter the Pikes Peak Center stage in Colorado Springs for the second debate in the U.S. Senate contest.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
Michael Bennet’s campaign team — Communications Director Trevor Kincaid, Deputy Campaign Manager Adrianne Marsh and New Media Director Carey Jeremiason — check statements made by opponent Ken Buck at the Colorado Springs debate.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman
John Swartout, Ken Buck’s campaign manager, and Sean Duffy, former communications director for Scott McInnis’ GOP gubernatorial bid, watch the debate.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

“Mr. Bennet and his friends in Washington, D.C. are spending money we don’t have for programs we don’t need,” declared Buck, citing the Democrat’s votes for national health care and stimulus bills that have contributed to a more than $13 trillion deficit and $100,000 trillion of future unfunded liabilities.

“We have $13 trillion on our balance sheet. And yes, Karl Rove, (we have) nothing to show for it,” said Bennet, who added that his words had been twisted by the Republican political strategist.

Bennet called for investment in transportation, energy and wastewater infrastructure as well as cutting taxes for small businesses.

“Colorado can lead our competitive economy from right here in El Paso County,” said Bennet. “Our job as Americans in Colorado is to leave more opportunity — not less — to our kids and our grandkids.”

The Weld County District Attorney accused the Senator of having a split political personality. When Bennet is in Washington, D.C. during the week, Buck asserted, “he’s talking about spending more and taxing more. When he’s back here, he preaches fiscal conservatism to us on Sundays.”

“I have voted to cut taxes for 98 percent of Coloradans,” declared Bennet.

Buck supporters in the audience burst out laughing.

“It’s true. It’s actually true,” insisted Bennet.

The Senator touted his vote for the Small Business Jobs Bill that aims to encourage lending, investment and job creation. Bennet said the bill, which passed Thursday, cuts $12 billion in taxes on small businesses.

Candidates accuse each other of negative ads
Asked about the negative attack ads against each other, Buck said that it’s fair to run ads that contrast the candidates’ positions on issues — but it’s unfair to mischaracterize a candidate’s positions by taking words out of context.

Buck said that prominent Denver TV and print reporters had determined that the Bennet’s campaign ad, a series of quick summations of Buck’s opinions on several issues, was “false, misleading, deceitful, not true.”

“There are other fact checkers that say that my ads are right,” countered Bennet.

Buck challenged Bennet to provide proof — specifically the videotapes of Buck’s appearances that were filmed by the Democratic Party’s tracker.

Bennet’s campaign TV ad cited Buck’s comments that the federal government should not be in the business of maintaining retirement programs such as Social Security, making student loans and managing health care coverage. The Republican had said that he would gradually dismantle the Department of Education and eventually phase out government student loans during a Teller County “tea party” forum earlier this year.

Buck told the audience that his plan to reform Social Security would protect retired citizens who have paid into the system and need the funds, exclude payments to those who are wealthy, increase the age of eligibility for retirement benefits and allow those who are working, particularly younger people, to invest in private accounts. Bennet said that he opposes the Republican candidate’s plan because it includes privatization and cannot sustain Social Security for those who’ve paid into the program.

“If anybody finds our ads deceitful, misleading, false, I will deal with my campaign and do my very best to get those ads off the air as quickly as we can,” vowed Buck.

Bennet bristled, “You said a week ago that you weren’t going to run negative ads. Your first ad is an attack on me. There are five ads that are running from outside Washington groups that are attacking me.”

The issue reared again when Bennet was asked about the perception of being “Obama’s chosen one” and Buck was quizzed about being portrayed at the “Tea Party’s toy.”

Buck lauded the grassroots voters who include members of the Tea Party and 9-12 groups.

Bennet scoffed and blamed the “chosen one” perception on “extreme groups” running ads that attack him in order to boost support for Buck. He said that three of the five committees had funded ads attacking Buck’s primary election opponent former Colorado Lt. Governor Jane Norton.

In answer to a question, both candidates said they support finance reform — particularly ending secrecy surrounding contributors to political committees.

“As far as I am aware — and correct me if I’m wrong — every single ad that was run on behalf of ken Buck attacking a wonderful Coloradan Jane Norton during the Republican primary was paid for by outside groups that have an agenda that is to the extreme of the Republican Party,” said Bennet.

“Everybody would like to know who bought the Republican primary in this state,” asserted Bennet.

Buck ignored Bennet’s comments that sounded like an appeal for votes from supporters of Norton, who won the GOP primary in El Paso County.

“I think the key to campaign finance reform is transparency,” said Buck. “We need to know immediately who donates and what their associations are.”

Buck said that people have a right to know who is funding corporation, union and political action committees.

Bennet and Buck split on the issues
The two men differed on most issues — Bennet declared he is solidly pro-choice; Buck opposes abortion except when a mother’s life is endangered. Bennet voiced his support for embryonic stem-cell research to find cures for diseases; Buck said he opposes it but supports adult stem-cell research.

Asked positions on the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays, Bennet said that it should be repealed. Buck said that he supports the policy.

“It’s not whether an individual is gay can serve in the military, the question is whether that individual can be openly gay in the military,” said Buck. “It’s one thing to deny someone access to the military and to a career in the military, it’s another thing to — for morale purposes and other purposes – make sure that we are as homogeneous as possible in the military in moving towards the common goal of the security and the military action, as opposed to the distractions that are caused by allowing lifestyle choices to become part of the discussion.”

Buck accused Bennet of voting against sending troops to protect the borders. Bennet maintained he had voted in favor of sending 6,000 troops to protect the nation’s borders.

Buck and Bennet were speaking of different amendments. On May 27, Bennet had voted for an amendment to HR 4899 that was sponsored by Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, and co-sponsored by Senator John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. On the same day, Bennet had voted against a similar appropriations amendment sponsored by Boehner. Both amendments failed.

In a lighter moment, Bennet said he agreed with Buck’s call for government solutions emanating from the local level instead of being mandated by Washington, D.C. The exchange brought a moment of unity in the audience that erupted with laughter and applause.

“I largely agree with what Ken said,” declared Bennet.

“I feel honored that you’re agreeing with me, but I have to disagree with your agreement,” countered Buck.

Campaigns spin their assessments
Predictably, the campaigns of each of the Senate candidates viewed the debates differently, either through red or blue tinted glasses.

“The debate highlighted the stark contrast between the two candidates, with Bennet trying to run away from his record,” said Owen Loftus, spokesman for the Buck campaign. “From the get-go, Buck gave a clear plan on getting Americans back to work, rein in Washington’s out of control spending and making Washington answer to the American people, not the special interests, while Michael Bennet said tax-cuts were the reason for our crises.”

“Bennet ran away from the important issues facing our country, such as how we’re going to correct Social Security, and create jobs,” added Buck campaign manager John Swartout. “Instead, Bennet spent his time running away from his record of rubberstamping $13.5 trillion in debt and sending 9.5 percent of Americans to the unemployment line.” 

“Once again, Michael’s focus on common-sense solutions stood head and shoulders above Ken Buck’s extreme rhetoric, empty promises and political doublespeak,” countered Bennet’s campaign spokesman Trevor Kincaid. “While Michael stood strong for thoughtful solutions, Ken Buck continued to flip-flop, side-step and back-track from his own extreme record.”
 
Kincaid said that,“Michael laid out a clear vision to create jobs, rebuild our economy and create more opportunity for generations of Coloradans to come. But Ken Buck offered little more than the same failed policies that drove us into this recession and cost countless Coloradans their jobs.” 

Kincaid also continued to harp on Buck’s use of negative campaign ads.
 
“Ken claims that he wants more transparency, but his deafening silence on these false, negative ads says an entirely different thing altogether,” charged Kincaid. “The bottom line is: Michael is focused on common-sense solutions. Ken Buck is just too extreme to trust.”

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com