Littwin: The Gardner and the woodshed

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] funny thing happened at the latest U.S. Senate debate. Cory Gardner got lectured. He got scolded. He got taken to the proverbial (whatever that actually means) woodshed.

And here’s the funny/strange part: It wasn’t Mark Udall who took him there. It was Denver Post politics editor and co-moderator Chuck Plunkett.

You see a lot of strange things happen at debates. That’s why you have to watch, particularly these days when access to candidates is so limited. It’s all non-stop, non-informative 30-second TV ads and last-minute-announced campaign stops and private events designed to keep the opposition trackers away.

And even though the participants try to stick to scripted answers at debates, these things are live, and the candidates get caught off guard. One day it’s John Hickenlooper at the Chamber debate saying pot voters were “reckless” and the next, in a yes/no lightning round, Mark Udall is saying “no” when asked if he would change anything about TABOR. All you can do is shake your head.

[pullquote]All candidates try to dodge the hard questions. Everyone knows that’s part of the game. But Gardner has a problem, and it’s starting to show.[/pullquote]

But the real news came early in the Denver Post debate when Plunkett asked Gardner why he wouldn’t reveal the details about the differences between his famously canceled health care plan and his new one under Obamacare. Of course Gardner dodged the question and started talking about Udall and Obamacare and broken promises instead.

Plunkett listened to the non-answer and then asked: “Would you like to answer the specific question?” Of course, he wouldn’t. Gardner gave another non-answer. And then came the Plunkett headliner:

“Sometimes,” he said, “if a candidate doesn’t answer a question, that tells you something about the candidate.”

Yes, it does.

Plunkett didn’t call out Gardner by name. He didn’t have to. All candidates try to dodge the hard questions. Udall dodged when asked how he’d rate Barack Obama’s job. Neither Gardner nor Udall answered the question about “boots on the ground” in Syria. Udall wouldn’t say why he was absent from committee hearings. Gardner wouldn’t answer yes/no on climate change. Udall had to hedge on Keystone.

Everyone knows that’s part of the game, like doing 39 in a 35. You don’t expect to get a ticket. But Gardner has now been pulled over by Eli Stokols, the leading political TV reporter in town, and by Plunkett, who edits the political coverage for the Post. Gardner has a problem, and it’s starting to show.

Last week, Gardner sat down for 30 minutes on KDVR’s Sunday morning talk show and wouldn’t answer Stokols’ questions on personhood or his Obamacare cancellation. Stokols went at him repeatedly. It wasn’t a revelation that Gardner would dodge. What was surprising was that Stokols wouldn’t let go. Usually even the best reporters give up and move on when they’re being filibustered.

Gardner has a few key questions for which he has no good answers. And both are of his own making. Everyone knows about his personhood problem – and how when he made his surprise entry into the Senate race, he disavowed his previous (and very public) support for the very unpopular proposed Colorado personhood amendments. But for some reason, he remained a co-sponsor of a House bill — the Life Begins at Conception Act — that is known by everyone, except Gardner, as federal personhood. In his interview with Stokols, he said four times that there was no such thing as federal personhood – an answer that, let’s say, didn’t work. In fact, it was a disaster.

At the Denver Post debate, Gardner tried a new non-answer — that the bill was simply a “statement that I support life,” as if it were less a bill and more a pillow-style sampler.

The other question, of course, is the insurance cancellation letter, which Gardner used to keep in his jacket pocket, where it was handy if he needed to wave it in someone’s face. But the longer he doesn’t give details, the more it becomes like his personal long-form birth certificate.

The problem on personhood for Gardner is that most of the campaign is Udall railing about Gardner and personhood and abortion and birth control versus Gardner saying that Udall voted with Obama 99 percent of the time. The 99 percent is a good number for Gardner, and it fits neatly with the accompanying anti-Obamacare message, which would be stronger if Gardner would release that cancellation letter.

In the debate, there was a candidate-to-candidate question period. Gardner asked Udall about missed committee hearings and the fact that women in his Senate office aren’t paid as well as the men. Udall dodged the first and had a good answer — about real paycheck inequality — to the second. Udall asked Gardner what would happen if the Life Begins at Conception bill became law. Gardner didn’t answer the, uh, specific question. Udall then asked how Gardner would vote if he were in the Senate and the bill came to a vote. Same thing.

On Thursday, Udall and Gardner meet again, for the third debate in four days. This one is in Pueblo, where the crowd will be encouraged to participate. If it’s like the recent Hickenlooper-Beauprez debate there, it will be raucous. And if questions are dodged, the crowd will respond with loud jeering. Just so everyone knows.


  1. Mr. Littwin would like to give readers the impression he opposes Congressman Gardner not because he’s a Republican but because of their differing views on issues and his support of Senator Udall is based on their simpatico views on issues, not because he’s a Democrat.

    The truth, however, resides far away because when Mr. Littwin finds himself and Senator Udall on opposite sides of an issue he simply ignores it and when that difference is put on public display he just ignores it harder.

    That’s the situation Mr. Littwin currently finds himself in on the issue of bombing ISIS.

    Mr. Littwin is an outspoken critic of President Obama’s decision to bomb ISIS worrying, as only Mr. Littwin can, that “something could go wrong.” So what is his response to Senator Udall’s most recent TV ad reminding voters of his determination “to defeat ISIS, with full support for America’s airstrikes in Syria and Iraq”?

    By now you can probably predict Mr. Littwin’s response(wait for it): silence. Absolute, complete and total silence.

    Yet, on at least one occasion Mr. Littwin has channeled his inner-Joanne Ostrow to critique/attack one of Gardner’s TV ads so surely he would do the same if he found a Udall ad to be equally offensive, right?

    Well, no.

    And the longer he hesitates the more obvious it becomes that Mr. Littwin’s views are not only highly malleable but subject to quick directional shifts when conflicting with the views of members of the same political stripe.

    It also demonstrates that politics trumps not only journalism but honesty and integrity which have never been a part of journalism. At least not part of the journalistic “style” Mr. Littwin practices: attack journalism. He doesn’t write “pro” columns and he doesn’t care if you support Senator Udall or Governor Hickenlooper, he simply wants you to oppose Congressman Gardner and Mr. Beauprez.

    It’s what today’s so-called journalism, especially in the Colorado Independent, has become.

    “But the one thing it was impossible to imagine, back in the giddy days of the 2009 inauguration, as Americans basked in their open-mindedness and pluralism, was that the first African-American president would outsource race.”-Maureen Dowd August 27, 2014

    “President Obama’s approval rating is down to 39 percent. And Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who admitted to smoking crack cocaine, went up to 49 percent. How does this make Obama feel? He’d be better off smoking crack than passing Obamacare.” –Jay Leno

    Wounded Warrior Project

    Veterans Day – November 11, 2014

  2. After watching the Stokols interview and last nights so called “debate” in which both candidates dodged and weaved their way through the tough questions, Gardner clearly said much about himself by saying nothing really.

    His tongue twisting chatter along with the smiling demeanor throughout left me wondering if I wasn’t watching a comedic automaton.

    For all Mr Lopez’s apologetic nonsense for Gardner, it is his attempts to be clever despite the same monotonous droning each time he posts one of his sluggish responses.

    The Ostrow channeling line is hilarious. “Attack journalism”? That places Mr Lopez at the butt end of a Richard Pryor joke.

    Good column as usual Mike.

  3. I keep wondering why Colorado needs – or wants – a bold face liar in the Senate. Cory Gardiner introduced a “Personhood” bill in the Congress of the United States; and he denies it. He has evaded answering any question concerning his REAL position on anything controversial, even when his previous actions speak for themselves. Yet, the first attack here IS NOT on the deliberate duplicity of Cory Gardiner – who IS THE ONE actually running for Office – but, rather, on the columnist commenting upon Gardiner’s conduct. I guess the attacker believes that, what one does, and says – or DOESN’T SAY – as a politician running for Office is “immune”; while all else is supposed to be reverent silence.

    Excellent column, Mike. And, again THANKS TO THE COLORADO INDEPENDENT for bringing back Colorado’s best and brightest.

  4. As a curious person, I wonder how well the Gardner family large farm machinery business would fare without the continuing food subsidies Congressman Gardner despises poor people receiving. The soon to be former congressman promotes bootstrapping individualism on the plains of eastern Colorado yet never lets on how much federal government support is need to feed his family. Just curious.

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