Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Darryl Glenn faced off Tuesday evening in downtown Denver for their only scheduled televised debate in the race.
The two battled on a decorated soundstage on the first floor of the History Colorado museum. KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark and political reporter Brandon Rittiman moderated the debate, which was often nearly drowned out by protesters outside.
Here are some takeaways:
1. Darryl Glenn would not clarify his stance on Donald Trump
Right off the bat, moderator Kyle Clark grilled Glenn about his waffling over support for the Republican presidential nominee.
“What you saw on Sunday, you saw an individual who actually made an apology,” Glenn said, adding that he wants to meet with Donald Trump to find out what’s in his heart. After that conversation, Glenn said, he would make a decision about whether or not he’ll support him.
Glenn jumped off the Trump train Saturday after leaked recordings emerged of Trump making demeaning comments about women. But after Sunday’s presidential debate, Glenn backpedaled, saying he might still support him.
During the debate he would not say where he stood on his support for Trump beyond saying, “I have absolutely suspended my endorsement of Donald Trump.”
2. Bennet said he doesn’t know what open borders are
Asked about leaked emails in which Hillary Clinton shared her dream of open trade and open borders, Bennet said he hadn’t read them.
“I don’t know what that means,” he said twice when asked if he agreed with Clinton about open borders. Instead he spun his answer to his work on federal immigration policy as a member of the so-called Gang of Eight U.S. senators who wrote a comprehensive immigration reform bill that never passed.
As a lawyer with an Ivy league education, Bennet should know what the phrase “open borders” means, Glenn said. “We all know what common language is, ladies and gentlemen.”
3. Glenn backtracked on support for a religious test to enter the U.S.
“I think that’s overly broad,” Glenn said when asked if he supports a ban on people of certain religions from entering the country— a reversal of previous statements he has made in support of Trump’s policy on Muslims coming to the U.S. “I do not support blanket bans,”
Bennet said he thought it was “awesome” Glenn said that since his position seems to have changed.
4. Bennet said he has voted for a Republican
He wouldn’t say who it was, though. “I think who I voted for is my business, but, yeah, I voted for a Republican,” Bennet said when asked if he ever had.
5. They both agreed Colorado voters shouldn’t be allowed to ban fracking in their communities
Some common ground: Bennet and Glenn both told the moderators they do not believe in allowing cities and municipalities to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas even if local voters approve such bans at the ballot box.
Colorado used to allow that until the oil and gas industry sued two cities for doing so. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled localities don’t have the power to ban fracking. Grassroots anti-fracking groups tried to put the issue on the statewide ballot for voters this year to decide, but were unsuccessful.
6. Green Party protesters disrupted the debate
Flanked by a throng of city cops, more than a dozen Green Party activists loudly disrupted the live televised debate, pounding on the glass walls of the museum and chanting “open the debate” so loudly the moderators had to address it. Leading the protest was Colorado’s Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, Arn Menconi.
About 10 minutes in, the demonstration forced the debate’s moderators to acknowledge it live on the air. Following a portion of the debate about Glenn’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership global trade agreement, Clark paused to face the camera.
“What folks are hearing at home that sounds like a very spirited drum circle are protesters who are beating on the outside of the building,” he said. “We assume that they’re probably in support of one of the half-dozen minor party or unaffiliated or write-in candidates who are also in this race but are not on the debate stage tonight.”
Clark said 9News, Denver’s local NBC affiliate, uses a 10 percent threshold from two polls of the station’s choosing to decide who gets to participate in their debates. “Some folks are exercising free speech outside by using the building as a bass drum,” Clark said.
Both candidates agreed it was their First Amendment right to protest.
There will be other non-major party names on this year’s ballot, too. Beyond Menconi, the the ballot will include Libertarian Lily Tang Williams, Unity Party candidate Bill Hammons and unaffiliated candidates Paul Fiorino and Dan Chapin. Write-in candidate Don Willoughby is also running.
You can watch a recent debate in Pueblo among Menconi, Fiorino, Chapin and Willoughby here.