PUEBLO — There’s a very thin line between being aggressive and being, well, a jerk. That’s the line Bob Beauprez high-jumped over in a debate here Thursday night.
The strange thing is, that was obviously his game plan, which went something like this:
To come out angry (not a good look in a governor); to play the bully (not a good look, period); and to attack John Hickenlooper for, of all things, Evan Ebel being released on parole and then making a widow, as Beauprez put it, of Tom Clements’ wife (a stunningly low blow and a terrible move politically).
Hickenlooper called politicizing Clements’ death “reprehensible.” And he meant it.
That’s the late director of prisons Tom Clements, who was Hickenlooper’s friend, whose 60th birthday it would have been Thursday. That’s Hickenlooper, whose mother was widowed twice, who said of Clements the day after he died that he “was someone who worked in a cold, dark world with a remarkably open and generous heart.”[pullquote]Beauprez apparently wanted to tie Clements’ murder to Dunlap’s reprieve, trying to make Hickenlooper look soft on crime. Instead, he only made himself look hard.[/pullquote]
The old saying is you don’t win debates; you only lose them. Beauprez lost this one, with a closed and strangely ungenerous heart. I’m not sure this strategy works anywhere, but it clearly doesn’t work in Colorado politics. And stranger still, this person Beauprez was playing – he was lucky the debate wasn’t on TV – is not at all who Beauprez actually is.
The only explanation I can think of comes from the latest polling. The right-leaning Rasmussen poll shows Beauprez losing by four points, suggesting that other poll numbers might even be worse, and something had to be done. But maybe not this.
Beauprez’s campaign has centered on questioning Hickenlooper’s abilities as a leader. And it has been quite effective, particularly in a debate setting. When Hickenlooper is challenged, he tries to talk the challenger out of his position, rather than do what good debaters do – which is to challenge right back.
Beauprez had put Hickenlooper on the defensive in their first two debates. And this time, Beauprez doubled down. Turns out, it was a very bad bet. His body language was Al-Gore-vs.-George-Bush-first-debate bad. He stared hard at Hickenlooper on every question, as if he were just waiting to be outraged. In the last debate, Hickenlooper had forced Beauprez into a handshake. In this debate, Beauprez tried to force Hickenlooper into a fistfight.
The debate question was on personhood and women’s reproductive rights. That had caused a bad moment for Beauprez in the last debate when he called IUDs an abortifacient, causing some real outrage among many women.
And so, in the middle of talking about personhood, Beauprez suddenly changed the topic, asking Hickenlooper about “women who are widows who have orphans because of parolees you have let out of state corrections.”
The crowd here for Hickenlooper-Beauprez III responded mostly with loud booing. But Beauprez clearly didn’t get the signal. He went on, talking about the real issue of prisoners moving from solitary confinement to release, but somehow thinking this was the way to get the woman’s vote.
“If women have an issue,” Beauprez said, “I think that issue is trust, trusting that government to somehow be protecting their public safety.”
It got worse.
When the moderator said it was time to move on, Beauprez said, “No, not just yet.” And then he went at Hickenlooper on the issue again, demanding that Hickenlooper answer his question. Hickenlooper came back hard, and that was basically the debate. Everything else that happened was lost in that exchange.
This was Hickenlooper’s best debate even before Beauprez went off the rails. He had finally come up with a coherent debate answer on Nathan Dunlap’s reprieve. In the first two debates, he stumbled on the question each time. And this debate, which was largely about Southern Colorado issues, never focused on guns. And on the Colorado economy, Hickenlooper cited a list of positive statistics before Beauprez could come out with his list of negative stats.
And when Beauprez tried to make Clements’ murder an issue, Hickenlooper didn’t stumble.
Beauprez apparently wanted to tie Clements’ murder to Dunlap’s reprieve, trying to make Hickenlooper look soft on crime. Instead, he only made himself look hard. The problem of solitary confinement in our prisons is very real — it is often a form of torture — but the issue has little to do with women becoming widows.
Clements was, in fact, a reformer on solitary confinement. And his replacement, Rick Raemisch, caused a stir by spending a night in solitary — which he called a “dumping ground” for mentally ill prisoners — and writing about it in the New York Times, noting that while he spent 20 hours alone in a tiny cell, some prisoners spend 20 years there. This is an area where Hickenlooper has worked hard and has done pretty well.
And in answer to Beauprez, Hickenlooper countered with this: “In the last six months no inmates have been released … from solitary directly into the population. We’ve fixed that problem.”
Whether or not the problem is entirely fixed, Beauprez was entirely undone.