Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Littwin: The Big Dog cuts to the chase

bill clinton

Bill Clinton may have his flaws — some pretty significant ones at that — but you can’t deny the Big Dog his genius. And he has a particular genius for cutting to the chase.

So, in case you haven’t figured out what the Udall-Gardner Senate race is about, Clinton has come to town to explain it while here for two days touting Udall, Hickenlooper and Romanoff.

In the year of women’s issues, the Democrats had already brought in their Big 3 — Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama — to energize the voters. But Bill comes in as the closer. And he’s still got wicked stuff.

And so he tells the audience at Hinkley High gym in Aurora that Cory Gardner is offering up a “pretty slick deal.” And it’s one, Clinton says, you should turn down. Few politicians can match Clinton in making the sale, so, if nothing else, you feel compelled to listen.

Gardner’s saying, ‘Give me a six-year job for a two-year protest.’ I wouldn’t take that deal.

Let’s be honest. Gardner’s campaign has little to do with getting rid of Mark Udall because he’s Mark Udall — any more than Udall’s attacks on Gardner are really about Gardner. Udall has issues on which he stands out. Privacy, definitely. And the environment. But Gardner is framing the race as a “New Republican” vs. a Democrat who votes, as you may have heard, with Barack Obama 99 percent of the time. You’ve heard it ad nauseum because that stat is about 99 percent of what Gardner talks about. The race, sadly, is about personhood vs. partisanship, and that’s pretty much it.

The New Republican doesn’t spend even 1 percent of his time talking about what a Republican-led Senate would accomplish. You can understand why. That would be real fear-mongering.

Gardner’s campaign is about making Udall a surrogate for an unpopular president. If Obama’s numbers were 10 points higher, Udall would be breezing to re-election, the Denver Post would have endorsed him and Gardner would be busy plotting his move up the House leadership ladder.

I did some checking to put the 99 percent in context. I went to OpenCongress, which tracks how often senators and congressmen vote with the majority of their party. OpenCongress scored Udall at 95.5 percent as of July 1, 2014. Last year, his number was 94.9. Here’s the strange part: That puts him in the middle of the Democratic pack. Many of the votes are procedural, of course, but you get the point. We live in hyper-partisan times.

Clinton called Udall the “poster boy” for aisle crossing, which may be just a slight exaggeration. But he did mention Udall’s cross-party work on deficit reduction, immigration reform, farm bills and Rocky Flats. And he mentioned, too, how Gardner wants to repeal Obamacare while Udall wants to fix it. Not many Democrats are willing to defend Obamacare. Bill Clinton seems to be just warming up for his defense of Hillarycare, and he makes a strong case.

But let’s go a step further. How do you think Gardner scored in the last two years? Yep, I know you’re with me here. Approval ratings for House Republicans register somewhere between 20 and 25 percent, and that’s on a good day. And according to OpenCongress, Gardner voted with the majority of House Republicans 95.5 percent of the time as of July 2014. And in 2013, it was 97.5 percent. Sound familiar?

OK, so it’s not about Udall and the Senate or about Gardner and the House. It’s not about whether Udall said ISIS wasn’t dangerous (he didn’t) or whether Gardner voted to shut down the government (he did).

It’s about an unpopular president who carried Colorado twice and whose numbers have cratered since. This is not shocking. Look at George W. Bush’s numbers after six years. The question is whether any president can survive two terms these days. Check your history, unless, of course, you live in JeffCo, in which case you’ll just have to trust me.

And while Obama is at a low point, Ebola has reached America and we’re fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Some liberals are disappointed. And some independents who voted for Obama feel betrayed. And, as Clinton put it, the economy is coming back, but many people don’t yet feel it. The overall numbers may have improved, but middle class income remains stagnant or worse and has for many years.

But here’s how Clinton framed the race for the crowd: Gardner, he says, “wants to take Mark Udall off the ballot and put the president on the ballot.”

Everyone knows that. But here’s where Clinton sees the slick part. Obama won’t be around for much longer. A Senate seat gets you six years in Washington, and Obama will be gone in two. So, isn’t there more at stake here than an anti-Obama vote?

“He’ll vote against you for six years,” Clinton said of Gardner, “but it’ll feel so good on Election Day. Isn’t that basically what’s going on? He’s saying, ‘Give me a six-year job for a two-year protest.’

“I wouldn’t take the deal.”

Do you buy the logic? The crowd did, cheering its approval. Of course, it was an all-Democratic crowd that was ready to cheer whatever Clinton said. Cutting to the chase, the race remains a tossup, and it’s only a week until we actually learn how it turns out.

[ Photo by Tim Hamilton. ]

Littwin: Bob Beauprez’s horror show

bob beauprez

The truly frightening thing about the Bob Beauprez horror-movie campaign ad is that Beauprez and his team must have thought it would actually work.

I don’t know if the ad is an act of desperation or an act of political ineptitude or perhaps some combination of the two, but it not only sets new Colorado standards for fear-mongering, it also reveals Beauprez as one of the least-talented politicians in modern state history.

But you already knew that. As you certainly recall, Beauprez lost to Bill Ritter in his last run for governor. His campaign strategy was based, in large part, on showing that a career district attorney was soft on crime. Let’s just say it didn’t work. Let’s just say Beauprez lost by 17 points in a purple state against someone who had never run for any office higher than Denver DA.

And now, remarkably, Beauprez is back to crime. He has somehow determined that his best closing argument would be that, thanks to John Hickenlooper, Colorado is a dangerous place to live, wherein killers are routinely released from prison to roam our city streets, wives are destined to become widows, children are destined to become orphans, and the Colorado version of the West is dangerously wild, meaning the critical question on the minds of the Colorado electorate is this:

“With John Hickenlooper as governor … is your family safe?”

That’s the tagline in the ad, which is supposedly about “public safety,” but is really about testing the limits of public disgust with politicians.

The answer to the Hickenlooper question is, of course, yes. It would be yes if Beauprez were governor. It was yes when Ritter was governor and when Bill Owens was governor and when Roy Romer was governor and when Dick Lamm was governor.

I mean, what Colorado is he talking about? Watch the ad. I’ll wait. Watch it again, and this time try not to laugh. It does not pass what they like to call these days the eye test. Beauprez is asking why scary prisoners who had served their sentences were being released. Maybe because they’ve, well, served their sentences.

And yes, there are some scary convicts. But look around. This is not Willie Horton time. And it’s not Colorado Chainsaw Massacre time either.

The ad is so bad that Beauprez has already had to change it. The ad opens with chirping crickets –I’m not kidding — but as soon as we hear the crickets, we see this line: “Under John Hickenlooper, violent criminal Evan Ebel was released from prison and brutally killed two Coloradans.”

One of those Coloradans was, of course, prison chief Tom Clements, who is not mentioned in the ad. He doesn’t have to be. The ad clearly suggests that Hickenlooper is responsible for his death, even though he happened to be Hickenlooper’s friend. It’s a low blow, of course. But low blows are standard fare in attack ads.

But this ad is so low that it moved Clements’ widow, Lisa Clements, to send a letter to Beauprez asking him to stop exploiting “our family’s tragic loss for your personal and political gain.” I’m not a political strategist, but I’m guessing that this is not the kind of reaction for which Beauprez and his team were hoping.

At first, Beauprez refused. Apparently, he hadn’t felt the need to talk to the widow before making her a centerpiece in his campaign and, after she had made her distress clear, he still didn’t feel the need to address her concerns. But the Denver Post then released an editorial accusing Beauprez of gutter politics, and so he caved, agreeing to remove the Ebel line.

Of course, what he should do is remove the entire ad and hope that everyone forgets that he ever put it on the air.

I don’t know how Beauprez could have thought this ad would be received any differently. He first raised the Ebel issue earlier this month in a debate in Pueblo, in which he somehow thought he could make this into a women’s issue, the government needing to protect the little ladies. Here’s the money quote from Beauprez: “If women have an issue, I think that issue is trust, trusting that government to somehow be protecting their public safety.”

Much of the crowd booed, which should have been a hint. Hickenlooper, not exactly your most confrontational debater, called the Beauprez debate strategy “reprehensible.” That should have been more than a hint. I wrote that night, which would have been Clements’ 60th birthday, that Beauprez was lucky the debate wasn’t televised. I guess Beauprez didn’t see it that way.

The polls show the race to be basically a dead heat, although the Hickenlooper campaign insists it is leading. I thought that with an improving economy and with a long history of successful incumbent governors, Hickenlooper was the clear betting favorite, but maybe not.

I do know that the race has been a referendum on gaffe-prone Hickenlooper, whose campaign has been waiting for a chance to turn the spotlight back on his even-more-gaffe-prone challenger.

It’s dark. The crickets are chirping. Someone should be afraid. Very afraid.


gardner questions

The question in the 9News Senate debate was half-softball, half-gotcha and the answers, by themselves, meant little in the greater scheme of things.

Except for this:

On the night that co-moderator Kyle Clark directly challenged Cory Gardner’s apparent unwillingness to tell the truth, Gardner seems to have told, well, a whopper of a white lie.

It began this way. In trying to gauge how bipartisan Mark Udall or Gardner might be, Clark asked if either could recall voting for a candidate from the opposite party. Udall said he couldn’t, at least not in the last 10 years. Gardner said no.

Ace reporter Lynn Bartels, who has covered Gardner for years, was a little skeptical, and so she slid into the fact-check machine and didn’t come out until discovering this little gem:

Gardner was a registered Democrat for eight years, from 1992-2000. He said in debate this week that he has never voted for a Democratic candidate. Why would he say that?

Gardner, as he has said, was a Democrat back in the day. What I’d never seen was that he was a registered Democrat for eight years, from 1992-2000. That’s more than one third of his voting life. And so, to believe Gardner, we have to believe that in his eight years as a Democrat — as a very vocal Democrat, one actively involved in party affairs – that he never managed to vote for a member of his own party, even one whose nomination for office he had officially seconded.

Of course, I’m told there could be an alternative explanation for his recall deficit. Maybe he couldn’t recall as a result of concussions that he suffered during his football years.

Do you believe Gardner’s simple no?

Does anyone believe that?

But the real question is, if Gardner did lie, why would anyone lie about such a meaningless circumstance? If you add in the “There is no federal personhood bill” when there obviously is a federal personhood bill, and when you further add that Gardner says he didn’t vote for a government shutdown when he did, in fact, make votes that led directly to a government shutdown, you might wonder if there’s a trend.

I called the Gardner campaign to get Gardner’s side of the story. I laid it out for them. I asked for real alternative possibilities. And in what has become part of the Gardner narrative, they didn’t call back.

Debate day — the fourth debate in nine days — had begun brilliantly for Gardner. The polls keep coming in showing Gardner with a narrow but consistent lead. And then Deadspin, the sports gossip site, wrote a gotcha story saying it had caught Gardner in a lie. It wasn’t much of a story even if true, which it wasn’t. Gardner had told the Washington Post an anecdote involving his football days in Yuma and about a nearby opposing team that persisted in using the old single wing formation. That’s a deeply inside-football metaphor, but Gardner likes to do football metaphor.

Someone must have told Deadspin that Gardner had never played. Deadspin contacted an old Yuma teacher, the local high school football historian, who said that Gardner never played. Deadspin called the Gardner campaign, which (see above) never responded. But the story was wrong. It turns out Gardner had played JV ball. The campaign tweeted out the story and a photo of Gardner in uniform. Deadspin’s source told the Denver Post he had been wrong. And suddenly, as Deadspin apologized for its mistake, it was another example of the media attacking Gardner unfairly.

(The Colorado Independent has had its own fling with this. Gardner was quoted in the Congressional Quarterly transcript of a House hearing saying he had had two hip surgeries. The Independent quoted the Quarterly transcript, but The Quarterly, it turned out, had quoted the wrong congressperson. The Gardner campaign immediately tweeted that we had it wrong. The Independent took down the story in about two minutes and apologized for reproducing the error. The Gardner campaign, which had never returned the Independent’s calls and emails [see above and further above], reveled in the mistake for about two weeks.)

So, there was Deadspin and then there was the 9News debate’s decidedly anti-spin. And then there came Kyle Clark’s question, which may have transformed the debate.

In case you missed it, when addressing Gardner’s insistence that the federal personhood bill he co-sponsors is not actually a federal personhood bill, Clark said: “Let’s talk about what that entire episode may say about your judgment more broadly. A charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you’re wrong and a less charitable interpretation would be that you’re not telling us the truth. Which is it?”

Clark’s question didn’t faze Gardner. He gave the same answer he always gives these days, that the bill is just a statement of belief. Hey, it’s what he says.

And so, did Gardner tell the truth on his voting record? (Just look at all the trouble Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Alison Grimes has gotten herself into by refusing to say whether she had voted for Barack Obama, when anyone could guess she had — and all she has done is make people wonder if she’s too slippery to give a straight answer.)

As Bartels noted, Gardner seconded the nomination of former Fort Collins Mayor Susan Kirkpatrick in 1998 at the Democratic 4th Congressional District Assembly. Did he not vote for her? And then there’s this: As a Democrat for eight years, did Gardner vote a straight non-Democratic ticket in election after election?

Hey, I don’t know the answers. I’m just hoping that someone has the chance to ask him the follow-up question.

Littwin: It’s bigger than personhood, Mr. Gardner


Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the prime-time 9News Senate debate, which was broadcast on Channel 20, actually got a decent audience (I doubt it, but let’s say it anyway).

If people were watching — hey, it was the last Senate debate of the season and what else were you doing at 7 on a Wednesday night? — what did they see?

It’s a harder question to answer than you’d think, which gets at the heart of the problem. Let’s take the first question of the debate — on Ebola. It’s a question ripped from the headlines, as they say. And since the crisis is still moving, the candidates haven’t had time to polish their responses.

More than that, the Ebola crisis doesn’t seem to fit the standard liberal-conservative model. It’s not abortion or birth control or immigration or taxes or ISIS or Iran or minimum wage or paycheck equity or entitlement reform or climate change or Harry Reid or Ted Cruz. As Mark Udall said, the virus is the enemy. Doesn’t everyone agree on at least that much?

The issue has always not only been about women’s choice, but also about Gardner’s judgment and character. And on Wednesday, Gardner dodged and feinted again, of course.

OK, you know better.

Udall went first. He said he had gotten a briefing that day from the Centers for Disease Control, but Udall didn’t have much specific to add, except to say we should focus on the problem and listen to the experts. And, he said, the experts at the CDC were on the case — and, in a pre-emptive move against Gardner, added that senators and congressmen weren’t in a very good position to judge.

Gardner countered by saying basically that he was in great position to judge — and that we should immediately ban travel to the United States from those West African countries most affected. He blamed Barack Obama for having no strategy, as if he were talking about war in Iraq or Syria. In fact, the tone was pretty much the same. It was spoken with the 99 percent certainty that Obama must be wrong, whatever position he takes.

And then the moderators asked Gardner what expertise he had used to determine his position because, as it happens, most experts think a travel ban would be counterproductive. Gardner responded by saying that polls showed most people agreed with him. Udall, meanwhile, ripped Gardner for a vote that would have cut $700 million from the CDC. Gardner said he was voting against Jazzercise and that, besides, Udall had voted with Obama a lot of the time.

So, what do you think?

Does it matter that Gardner thinks the wisdom here can be found in the majority?

Does it matter that Udall had access to top people at the CDC, but didn’t have much specific to offer?

Does it matter that the co-moderators – Kyle Clark and Brandon Rittiman – jumped a candidate when he gave an unsupported answer? (This was speed-debating. Clark and Rittiman sped up the tempo, cut off answers that were going nowhere, tried to force tough answers to tough questions, got almost nowhere anyway, but still provided a good hour’s worth of entertainment.)

And the strange thing is, the Ebola argument, even if it didn’t offer much, was illuminating. It showed us Republican-congressman thinking vs. Democratic-senator thinking, and, depending how you see it, it should offer a strong hint about how you should vote.

I mean, what’s the real question here? Udall’s a mainstream Democrat. Gardner is a down-the-line conservative Republican. If Gardner wins, Republicans will almost certainly control the Senate. If Udall wins, Democrats may well hang on. That’s pretty much it. Don’t listen to editorials suggesting Gardner would be a moderating force in the Senate. He’d be a reliable soldier, just like he is in the House. If Udall loses, the Senate would lose a strong voice on privacy and also a reliable vote for liberal causes. But mostly, the race is about whose side you’re on.

Or is it?

The headlines in the debate came from the moderators, just as they did in the Denver Post debate. Rittiman asked Udall to name an Obama policy he’d be likely to oppose over the next two years. Udall wouldn’t, or couldn’t, name one. And Clark put a large dent into the Gardner smile on personhood. Clark said there was no debate about whether the House bill that Gardner co-sponsors is a personhood bill that would ban abortion and many kinds of birth control — and that Gardner is the only one who says otherwise. Clark said he wasn’t going to “debate” the question because it was a “fact.” And then he hit Gardner with a little more than a jab.

“Let’s talk about what that entire episode may say about your judgment more broadly,” Clark said. “A charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you’re wrong and a less charitable interpretation would be that you’re not telling us the truth.”

The Denver Post, in its surprise endorsement of Gardner, said Udall was “obnoxious” to keep hitting Gardner on women’s reproductive rights in ad after campaign ad. Gardner, suddenly a big fan of the media, mentioned the Post in the debate more often than he mentioned the 99 percent.

And now Clark suggests, in a remarkably aggressive question, that the issue is not only about women’s choice, but about Gardner’s judgment and character. Gardner dodged and feinted in response, of course.

Is Clark right? Is the Post right?

The race might be decided on whether — after the fifth and apparently final meeting between Udall and Gardner — you think the question is still debatable.

Littwin: Raucous Pueblo crowd wins U.S. Senate debate

crowd shot

PUEBLO — It was the best debate of the season, which says something about Pueblo, something about the raucous crowd, something about the moderator and something not so great about the contestants.

What the debate did mostly, though, was to serve as a sad reminder of how relentlessly boring and issue-deficient this Senate campaign has been.

The stakes are so high — the race could decide which party controls the Senate — and yet the volume on so many of the critical issues has been turned down so low. The only sound you can really hear is that constant screeching noise from the endless round of 30-second campaign ads.

What made this debate different was the real enthusiasm and excitement, two words almost entirely missing from the campaign. The energy came from the crowd.

There were no headlines from the debate. There was little new said by either Mark Udall or Cory Gardner, other than Gardner joining the knee-jerk, ban-flights-from-Ebola-infected-countries crowd. It was still mostly personhood (we get it) vs. 99 percent (we get that, too) — and a lot of blame for past votes and very little about what to do next (Gardner has his Four Corners plan, which he touts endlessly and never explains and which, after this campaign season, will never be heard from again).

What made the debate different — this would be the third time Udall and Gardner had debated this week — was the evening’s real enthusiasm and excitement, two words almost entirely missing from the campaign.

The energy came from the crowd. The moderator, Pueblo Chieftain managing editor Steve Henson, mostly got out of the way and and let the candidates have at each other, which they did. It made for fun; it didn’t make for the depth of debate you’d hope for. But I’ll take fun at this point.

And the crowd was encouraged to, well, engage. Politics in Colorado are — how can you say it politely? — basically, yes, polite. And if you’re rude (see: Schaffer, Bob; Tancredo, Tom), you get punished for it. But in this case, the candidates were just following the lead of the crowd, which couldn’t get enough.

It sounded more like a football game than a debate. There was everything but tailgating, and that was probably because of the rain. There was competitive name-chanting before the debate began. When the candidates took the stage, they got rock-star cheers, even though there would be no singing. There were more Republicans than Democrats on hand, and the moderator had to admonish the crowd when they were booing over Udall’s turn to talk — Henson said the crowd was “embarrassing” itself — but both candidates caught the fever in the room.

If it didn’t make for better arguments, it did make for better theater, like Udall slamming Gardner for voting to cut $300 million from the Center for Disease Control and Gardner responding that the CDC was spending the money on Jazzercise. This came to whooping from both sides of the hall. When was the last time you heard cheering for Jazzercize?

And though both candidates were more energized than I’d seen them, the rise in temperature worked in Gardner’s favor. Gardner had been humiliated in Tuesday’s Denver Post debate by the moderators for dodging questions. It has become a central issue in the campaign, and Gardner is flirting with that place where dodging equals slick and slick equals untrustworthy.

Republicans have wasted the real Cory Gardner. He is running as a generic Republican, dodging stands on social issues and calling for government to get out of the way. It might as well be Bob Beauprez running. Gardner is smart and charismatic — despite the fact that he actually used the line that Udall and Obama were both five-letter words — and has the ability to charm. Instead, he’s going to editorial board meetings at, say, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, and seeing them turn into heated arguments about why Gardner won’t answer the question of how, on one hand, he could disavow state personhood and how, on the other, he could still support federal personhood. If there were a third hand, it would be how Gardner can deny that the two personhoods are the same thing.

In this debate, Gardner seemed to have two goals: The first was not to be trapped into being called a dodger again. And because the debate was so free form, he was able to feint consistently without anyone effectively calling him on it. In fact — and this was the second goal — he worked hard to put the onus on Udall, throwing questions his way that he would prefer to dodge.

Udall had a goal, too, which was to counter the 99 percent, voting-with-Obama number. In this hyper-partisan world, I’d guess that nearly all senators are in the 90-plus range on one side or the other. But Udall hit back hard with his own number, which he has used before but never so consistently — about Gardner being rated by the National Journal last year as the 10th most conservative member in the very conservative House. As Udall pointed out, Tancredo never cracked the top 50.

It was numbers vs. numbers and old arguments vs. old arguments and zingers vs. zingers, and the only thing that will be remembered by voters from this week’s three debates — there’s one more next week — is Gardner getting called out by the Denver Post. But I’ll remember the Pueblo crowd. It made me feel like cheering from the press box.

[Wikimedia Moses Namkung crowd photo not taken at the Pueblo debate!]