Greeley Tribune: Gardner shellacs Hickenlooper in the first U.S. Senate debate

In the year’s first debate between candidates for the U.S. Senate, Democratic nominee John Hickenlooper made a serious mistake. He built his case for election on a slushy foundation and showed Colorado why he’s not cut out to be a senator.

Any undecided voters who watched this debate should not remain undecided. Sen. Cory Gardner, making the case for a second term, owned the stage. It was a shellacking of Hickenlooper. Gardner was crisp on the issues and enumerated his accomplishments as the third-most bipartisan member of the Senate. Gardner reiterated the unassailable fact he introduced more successful legislation than the rest of Colorado’s nine-member congressional delegation during the past six years.

Hickenlooper meandered and stumbled over his words, appearing unpolished, feckless, underprepared and on the defensive.

The foundation problem was an embarrassment for Hickenlooper. He argued his case for election by sounding like the great defender of the Affordable Care Act, repeatedly accusing Gardner of trying to destroy it.

That would be a reasonable theme, if supportable. There’s just one big problem. Of the two men debating, only one devised a package to upend the Affordable Care Act. It wasn’t Gardner.

Hickenlooper must have forgotten his ballyhooed and failed effort to overhaul the ACA with an alternative plan he wrote with then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.

“It’s time to roll up our sleeves and deliver specific plans that will improve our health insurance system,” Hickenlooper said in March 2017, as he announced his plan.

To Hickenlooper, the ACA was so problematic he said “time is of the essence. We need to move forward on this and have concrete proposals.”

Hickenlooper quoted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce saying a new health care plan was “an urgent necessity.”

He and Kasich delivered their alternative, and it was largely panned as a dud.

After Hickenlooper tried to cast Gardner as a threat to the ACA, Gardner put him on the ropes. Did you or did you not, Gardner demanded, devise a replacement for the ACA with Kasich?

Hickenlooper resorted to a sideways glare toward Gardner and an awkward gulp of water.

Gardner accused Hickenlooper of advocating socialized health care policies that would deprive 178 million workers of the insurance they earn from employers.

Hickenlooper would have federal bureaucrats making health care decisions for individuals and families. He would cost each working family $2,300 in additional annual payroll taxes.

Throughout the debate, Gardner effectively branded Hickenlooper as a man seeking office for personal gain. Hickenlooper, he said, thinks it’s all about himself.

“He took private jet trip after private jet trip violating the state’s Constitution,” Gardner said.

“Then he didn’t even show up at his own ethics trial.”

Gardner hammered home the fact Hickenlooper is the first and only Colorado governor to have been convicted of ethics violations in connection with gifts forbidden by the Constitution.

Rather than apologize or explain the ethics and contempt convictions, Hickenlooper tried to pass them off as innocent, minor paperwork errors no one should worry about. In doing so, he played right into another of Gardner’s assertions: Hickenlooper thinks the rules don’t apply to him.

Gardner demanded to know if Hickenlooper would agree to repay Colorado taxpayers the money his ethics violations cost them in legal fees. Hickenlooper declined to answer.

Gardner cornered Hickenlooper again by asking why he opposed efforts by Senate Republicans to extend unemployment benefits during the pandemic. When Hickenlooper did not answer, Gardner answered for him by saying the former governor opposed aid for working families because derailing a Republican plan might help him win the election. The Democrat had no response, other than his repeated insistence that Gardner was lying.

Hickenlooper’s most memorable lines sounded like the silliness Americans heard in this week’s presidential debate.

“Cory hates metro Denver,” Hickenlooper declared, from out of nowhere.

When Hickenlooper criticized a Republican-led environmental group, Gardner pounced on him for criticizing a young Colorado woman who cares enough to get involved. Hickenlooper apologized, then continued questioning the woman’s motives.

“I apologize to the young woman…” Hickenlooper said.

“You just called her a liar,” replied Gardner with a tone of dismay.

By the end of the debate, a sadly outmatched Hickenlooper had proven the case for a statement he made last year: “I’m not cut out to be a senator.”

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