DENVER (CBS4) – The nasty tone of election ads in Colorado’s governor race spilled into the final debate on Friday when Gov. John Hickenlooper and challenger Bob Beauprez quarreled over why neither campaign has denounced negative attacks.
VIDEO: Watch The Complete Debate
One Beauprez ad that began airing this week exemplified the pair’s fight over noxious TV spots.
The ad — called “Neighborhood” — criticizes Hickenlooper for public safety concerns and implies the governor was partially responsible for the murder of Tom Clements, a Colorado law enforcement official killed by a paroled inmate in 2013.
Hickenlooper said Beauprez was politicizing Clements’ death, but Beauprez said it’s appropriate to question the governor’s public safety record.
The Beauprez campaign on Thursday pulled a line from the ad after Clements’ widow, Lisa, pleaded with Beauprez to stop spotlighting her husband’s death: “On several occasions this year, you have attempted to use our family’s tragic loss for your personal and political gain, and we are respectfully asking you to stop,” the family said in a statement.
Beauprez acknowledged during the debate that the ad raised a painful issue.
“My intention was never to offend her or to politicize that event,” he said.
The one-hour debate, presented by CBS4 and Colorado Public Television 12, aired on CBS4 and CBSDenver.com.
Polls have consistently shown the pair deadlocked since early September when Beauprez significantly narrowed Hickenlooper’s lead — once in the double digits this summer. The race is widely considered a nail-biter.
The debate later grew testy over attack ads when Beauprez was asked why he, like Hickenlooper, pledged at an earlier debate not to run unpleasant TV spots but hasn’t stopped.
Another ad from the Beauprez campaign has accused the governor of “Hickpocrisy” for not asking outside groups to pull negative spots run by the Democratic Governors Association, a group Hickenlooper’s campaign can’t coordinate with.
The debate turned cantankerous when the pair argued about the ads.
“(Hickenlooper) hasn’t lost his First Amendment rights to speak out,” Beauprez said. “At least stand up, and say that’s false, throw the flag, call a foul. And he could at least do that. But he hasn’t. To this date, he hasn’t. Maybe tonight?”
“No, I’ve happily said to take them all down,” Hickenlooper responded. “I’ve said that again and again: Take down all the negative ads. That’s what we agreed to. You said, ‘I will only run positive ads.’ Your ads haven’t been anywhere close to positive.”
“You broke the promise before you stopped answering (the) question (at a previous debate),” Beauprez retorted.
“Our campaign has never run anything but a positive ad,” Hickenlooper interjected. “That’s everything we can control. And I denounce all the negative ads. I’m happy to do it.”
“But you’re also happy to let other people do your dirty work for you,” Beauprez said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Hickenlooper, Beauprez Debate
“No, I’m not. I’ve denounced them. Take them all down,” Hickenlooper replied.
Beauprez then added, facetiously: “Oh, please Democratic Governors’ Association, take them down. The silence is deafening.”
“They spent $2 million attacking me, and you were mute. Where was your voice back then?” Hickenlooper asked.
DOMINIC DEZZUTTI: A Fitting Finale To The Governor’s Debate Season
Hickenlooper’s campaign has refused to attack Beauprez and instead has run a mostly positive campaign. Outside groups supporting the governor, however, have poured money into the race to accuse Beauprez of denying women access to abortion and birth control.
Beauprez and Hickenlooper also sparred over nearly every issue germane to the election: fracking, the economy, capital punishment, controversial education proposals, abortion and gun control.
The candidates tread over those worn topics and didn’t offer substantially new answers. But their discussion over public safety covered fresh ground.
In the debate’s first question, Beauprez was asked if it was “over-the-top” to ask whether families are unsafe with Hickenlooper at the helm, as Beauprez did in the ad.
“My intention is to raise a serious question about John Hickenlooper’s failed record on public safety,” he said. “That was but one crystalizing event in a whole series. I’m afraid (there have been) serious tragic failures in leadership on his watch on public safety.”
The governor said Beauprez was capitalizing on Clements’ death.
“Invoking his death for political purposes … I’m still dumbfounded. I know it was difficult not just for Lisa and her two daughters but for everyone,” Hickenlooper said before adding that he was “very disappointed” Beauprez continued to run attack ads.
Beauprez claimed that Colorado has one of the country’s highest recidivism rates — “our streets aren’t safer,” he said — blaming Hickenlooper for not leading on the issue. But the governor countered that only cracking down harshly on prisoners doesn’t mitigate crime inside or outside prisons, or provide released prisoners with opportunities.
BEAUPREZ PROFILE: Beauprez Pins State’s Success To Local Control, Hands-Off Government
HICKENLOOPER PROFILE: Hickenlooper Touts Strong Economy, Pragmatic Compromise
The candidates also debated how they’d unsnarl Interstate 70 congestion that causes traffic headaches in the mountains nearly every weekend.
Beauprez said he wants to renew transportation bonds to raise additional funds — $3.5 billion, he said — for improvements, but he didn’t mention any specific construction solutions he supports. Hickenlooper touted current improvements to the I-70 corridor, including widening of the twin tunnels near Idaho Springs and the construction of road shoulders that act as third lanes to alleviate traffic clogs.
Voters elected Hickenlooper to his first term in 2010. Beauprez, who lost a gubernatorial bid in 2006, represented Colorado’s 7th U.S. House district for two terms.
Election Day is Nov. 4.