Gardner, Udall Clash on Social Issues in Unruly Debate

Moderators accuse Republican of not answering questions, let Dem off the hook

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner
Mark Udall, Cory Gardner / AP
October 8, 2014

DENVER—Rep. Cory Gardner (R.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D.) squared off for the second time in two days Tuesday evening, in a debate that highlighted differences between the Colorado candidates on social issues and foreign policy.

Gardner attempted to put to rest the issue of contraception, which Sen. Udall has made the center point of his campaign, when he was asked the first question of the night: "please explain where you stand on birth control." Udall would bring up the issue another five times.

"It’s simply outrageous to believe that somebody would try to ban birth control," Gardner said. "That’s simply outrageous. In fact, the first time my wife and I saw a television ad by Sen. Udall that said we wanted to ban birth control my wife looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Didn’t you use to pick up my prescription?’"

Moderators Chuck Plunkett and Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post struggled to maintain control of the debate. The pair tried to introduce a "yes or no" category to the debate format, but neither candidate followed the rules. The moderators were also forced to chastise the mostly liberal crowd several times for jeering, arguing they wanted a professional atmosphere.

Plunkett halted the debate to criticize Gardner for not answering a question specifically, but let Udall evade questions on several topics. When asked why Gardner redacted the portion of his letter that detailed his health plan that was canceled under Obamacare, Gardner simply said, "We chose a plan we could afford, a plan that best fit our needs."

"Sen. Udall promised that they could keep their health care plan if they liked it, he didn’t say, ‘If I liked your health plan you can keep it,’ but that’s exactly what happened," Gardner said.

"Mr. Gardner, could we take just a few more seconds—we wanted to try to get a specific answer to the question," Plunkett said.

"Let’s just take control of the situation here," he added. "Every now and then I will want, or Lynn will want to ask a follow up question if we didn’t think a specific question was answered."

"It’s our prerogative, sometimes a candidate doesn’t answer a question and that also tells you something about the candidate the voters should know," he said.

Plunkett said, "That would apply to any candidate who doesn’t specifically answer a question," though the next question to Udall on what changes the Democrat would make to Obamacare to mitigate cancelations and rate increases was left unanswered without scolding from the moderators.

Udall also avoided answers on which U.S. senator is most responsible for gridlock, or if President Obama has the authority to take executive action on immigration.

The Democrat continued drawing on the campaign phrase "forward," often saying Gardner would "take us backwards" on a variety of issues.

The priorities of the candidates were contrasted when they each got to ask questions directly to each other.

Udall started off with birth control.

"You have sent mixed messages to the people of Colorado when it comes to women’s reproductive rights," Udall said to Gardner. "The Life at Conception law would ban most common forms of contraception. I’m just curious what would happen if that were to become the law of the land, when you clearly believe that this is something that we ought to implement, you have a long record and history of supporting this issue."

"That bill is a statement that I support life," Gardner said. "And I believe that we ought to expand access for women’s health, including the opportunities to allow contraception to be sold over the counter without a prescription."

Udall followed up saying contraception is a "very important issue" and questioned Gardner’s "respect for women."

"The Islamic State is a growing threat to the region and to our country," Gardner’s first question began. "Recently it has become in the news that you have not only missed every public hearing of the emerging threats subcommittee, but your attendance at the Senate Armed Services Committee has only been 64 percent as the Islamic State continues to present an imminent threat to our nation. Where were you and what was more important than our national security?

Udall dismissed the question as a "distraction" and said he is "briefed on an ongoing basis" as chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee and a member of the Armed Services Committee.

"I’ve made all the votes on the Armed Services Committee and I take that as an important responsibility," he said. "What you’re doing here is trying to distract people from your record and you’re forgetting that we’re in this together."

Gardner also asked Udall why he only pays women on his staff 86 cents on the dollar compared to men. Udall said women are paid the same for "equal work."