After 10 blistering exchanges where Senate candidates Republican Bob Schaffer and Democrat Mark Udall exchanged political potshots, the tone of the 11th debate on Tuesday was positively tame.
The debate, hosted by the Denver Chamber of Commerce and moderated by longtime Colorado journalist Fred Brown, allowed time for the candidates to speak on a number of domestic policy issues normally primed for partisan disagreement. Curiously, though, the hour-long event, before a far smaller than anticipated crowd, lacked the cat scratching and political punches voters have come to expect in the Schaffer/Udall showdowns.
“I want to thank both candidates for a very civil discussion,” Brown said afterward. The crowd of a couple hundred applauded.
Two weeks ago, the two candidates fighting to replace retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard appeared on “Meet the Press” for a debate moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw in what turned into a far more confrontational setting. During that 15-minute exchange, Schaffer interrupted Udall — who looked like a deer in the headlights — repeatedly, and was criticized on some Colorado political blogs afterward for bully tactics.
During the first Schaffer/Udall debate in Parker in July, Schaffer actively made fun of “liberal” Boulder residents during many of his answers, and Udall supporters, who were extraordinarily abrasive in their cat calls from the gallery, were angrily asked by moderator Adam Schraeger of 9News to stop the taunts or else he would end the debate.
It was anything but a civilized affair.
Udall has been less aggressive than Schaffer in the debates, operating in a laid-back mode that has allowed Schaffer to take first jabs during each round before Udall hits back mostly by defending his record and by claiming that Schaffer, who most recently worked as an oil and gas executive, has worked harder to support Big Oil interests in the last 10 years than working Americans.
But Tuesday’s debate, the second in two days and the 11th of the 16 scheduled in the race, showed two candidates who looked tired. They appeared worn down and bored with the constant reiteration of their own talking points. They looked like most candidates do come October.
The interest for the debates among the electorate appears to be waning as well. Only half of the 750 seats in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in Denver were filled, and the debate started nearly 25 minutes late in what organizers admitted was a hope that some people were running late. They never arrived.
The attendees who did show up listened to both candidates expound upon their views of the importance of affordable energy, reformed health care and creating jobs to aid the ailing economy. Both candidates came across well-versed in a wide array of issues and policy. Both said they represented change.
“I hope change is what you’re after this election, and if so, I will be your senator,” said Schaffer, who reiterated his core mission to fight for “freedom” in America and targeting sitting members of Congress, one of which is Udall, for America’s woes.
“The approval rating of Congress is down to 9 percent,” Schaffer said. “What we need in our economy is not just a strategy to print and borrow more (money), but a need to have (some) serious belt-tightening in Congress.”
Heads in the primarily business-friendly crowd were bobbing up and down during much of Schaffer’s comments about the economy, taxes and his anti-union stances.
Udall spent much of the session turning each answer he gave into a proclamation for the need to produce more renewable energy and to help ferret out the “clean energy economy” — a point he has hammered repeatedly. But, Udall, similar to Schaffer, said that Coloradans who are looking for a change in America’s direction should look toward his candidacy and the Democratic agenda.
“We’re at a historic crossroads,” Udall said. “We can travel the same road we have been on that is typified by the Bush/Cheney administration … or we can chart a new direction, and I offer you that new direction. I am going to stand up for working Coloradans. America is a great country … and you all know that greatness is right in front of us with a new kind of leadership.”