DENVER – Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Cory Gardner sparred on energy, Obamacare, and the economy during their second debate hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
The Democrat tried to distance himself from anti-fracking comments he made to a voter earlier this year, and struggled to put a specific price on a carbon tax he said he supports.
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Referring to the Washington Free Beacon as a "right-wing blog," Udall flatly denied saying to a voter earlier this year that fracking "keeps us locked into the old system." The remark, made in April, can be heard on an audio recording.
"Congressman, as you know that was a right-wing blog approach that the mainstream media disregarded," Udall said, when asked again by Gardner to defend his comments. "I didn’t say it. I don’t believe it."
When asked by debate moderator Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter for Politico, Udall said he still wants to place a tax on carbon emissions.
"I do support putting a price on carbon," he told a roomful of 500 Colorado business leaders at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. "There are a lot of mechanisms that ought to be revenue neutral, we can do it in a way that the middle class and working Americans are actually lifted by it."
"Colorado is incredibly well positioned to take the leadership, and I know there are a lot of people in this room that want to take that leadership, and the EPA’s rules are a start," Udall said.
Gardner countered by arguing that while he believes the climate is changing, he is not willing "to destroy the economy for policies to address that."
"I would just ask this question of Sen. Udall, what is the price that you would put on carbon?" Gardner said.
Udall avoided the question.
"Congressman the price I would put on, is the opportunity that we’re going to miss if we don’t go all in," he said. "We’ve had floods, we’ve had fires, we’ve had droughts, we have the leading climate scientists in the state telling us it’s happening. We know it’s happening. The farmers know it’s happening, we all know it’s happening."
"So let’s lean forward, let’s create our future," Udall said. "Congressman Gardner is looking backwards, let’s look forwards and embrace the future with these technologies, they’re right there for the taking."
"We hear people talking about putting a cost on carbon, but they won’t talk about how much that price on carbon is," Gardner said. "Let’s just have an answer. What is the price? Is it $5 a month? Is it $10 a month? Is it $20 a month? Sen. Udall, am I not going high enough?"
"Congressman, I’ve answered the question," Udall replied.
Udall tried to distance himself from the White House, while relying heavily on President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign slogan "forward" throughout the debate, and accusing his opponent of wanting to go "backwards."
When the debate turned to Obamacare, Udall again reaffirmed his support for what he described as an imperfect law, though he was vague on how to fix it.
"Yes, yes, I would have voted again," he said. "Sure if I was there as we all are, hindsight is 20/20, there are some changes I would have made, and I’m happy to share those with you today or on the campaign trail."
Gardner pointed to the 340,000 people in Colorado who had their insurance cancelled as a result of the law.
"The primary promises that were made in Obamacare, Sen. Udall repeated every single one of them, that if you like your health care plan, you could keep your health care plan," he said. "Three hundred and forty thousand Coloradans found out. He didn’t say that ‘if I like your health care plan, you can keep it.’ He said ‘if you like your health care plan you can keep it.’ Turned out not to be true."
"Congressman Gardner seems to want to look backwards and go backwards," Udall said. "That was 2010, we’re in 2014. How do we make the Affordable Care Act work?"
Udall added that "most" of those who received cancellation letters "had a renewal option," and blamed the cancellations on health insurance companies.
"When I found out that insurance companies weren’t keeping faith with the intent of the law I was as angry as anybody," Udall said. "I offered a piece of legislation so people could keep their plans, I was in the face of the White House saying you’ve got to find every measure whereby you could give the insurance companies the flexibility and also let them know that this isn’t appropriate."
The debate concluded with closing remarks, and Udall again said Gardner was "going to take us backwards," and that one of his top priorities is to make sure women are paid as much as men in the workforce. Udall pays men on his senate staff an average $9,783 more than women.
Gardner and Udall, who are currently running neck and neck, will face off in another debate hosted by the Denver Post on Tuesday.