DENVER (CBS4) – Andrew Romanoff took the offensive in Tuesday night’s debate against Mike Coffman and rarely let up, criticizing the U.S. House incumbent for his stance on women’s issues, government shutdowns and personal attacks in the campaign.
In the third public debate, Romanoff, who is looking to unseat Coffman in the highly competitive 6th congressional district, repeatedly said he was “disappointed” with Coffman’s positions on many issues. He attacked Coffman on his vote to shut down the federal government and his position that humans aren’t the primary cause of climate change.
The debate’s first half-hour consisted mostly of moderator questions with one-minute answers and 30-second rebuttals on subjects like ISIS, student loan aid, entitlement reform, immigration-legislation deadlocks and personhood amendments.
But when moderators — a politics editor and a reporter from The Denver Post — shook up the format with yes-or-no queries and candidate-to-candidate questions, the debate turned lively — and testy at times.
About three-quarters through, Romanoff and Coffman became snippy with each other when the moderators asked each candidate to talk about the biggest falsehood his opponent had lobbed his way.
It seemed the personal attacks between the camps have irritated.
The segment started calmly enough, however.
“How much time do we have?” Romanoff joked.
“One minute,” a moderator replied.
“That’s not enough,” Romanoff retorted.
But he soon started blaming Coffman for not providing voters with a “healthier” debate.
Coffman then accused Romanoff of running advertisements that attacked his personal character — something Romanoff has said he wouldn’t do.
Coffman said he believed Romanoff was a “career politician,” an allegation that Sen. Michael Bennet levied against him in a 2010 Democratic primary.
“I think your ad is not honest,” Coffman said.
“What ad?” Romanoff repeatedly asked. “Which one?”
Coffman wasn’t specific, and when Romanoff interjected again — asking “Which ad?” — Coffman replied: “I’ve got the floor now.”
The moderator then reminded them the debate should remain respectful.
Coffman said the biggest misconception about him is that his policies are unfriendly toward women. Coffman called “fundamentally dishonest” ads that accuse him of not standing up for women’s reproductive rights. Coffman said he supports women’s access to birth control, and backed legislation that cracked down on sexual assault in the military and provided support to mothers on active duty.
But Romanoff wouldn’t let up on the personal-attack line: “You feel compelled to take character attacks.”
Coffman recovered when the moderators asked the candidates about accepting money from third parties.
“I think voters have to know where your money is coming from,” Coffman said. The congressman said Romanoff had received money from people who had taken it from political action committees: “I just think it’s hypocritical to point fingers.”
The pair’s first debate, on Aug. 14, grew cantankerous at times over the PAC issue. Coffman declined Romanoff’s offer then that both candidates refuse what he called “special interest” money, firing back at Romanoff that he had benefited from PACs.
Similar groups have targeted Coffman recently with TV ads that claim the representative is receiving “dark money” to fund his campaign.
The debate’s quarrelsome bent continued when the candidates directly asked each other questions — though they were more of statements than anything.
Romanoff first asked Coffman why he supposedly thinks he knows women’s issues better than women: “What puts you in a better position?” he asked. Coffman countered by asking Romanoff if he’ll stand up to teachers unions.
Romanoff then peppered Coffman again on his climate change stance, and Coffman followed saying Romanoff did a “miserable job” helping small businesses during his time in the Colorado legislature.
Yes Or No — And Some Agreement, Believe It Or Not
The most straightforward segment of the night was perhaps a rapid-fire yes-or-no response period. For the record, here are their positions. (The questions are paraphrased.)
Is the government militarizing local police by giving them heavy weaponry and equipment?
Do the candidates support measures that would make it easier for marijuana growers to attain banking help?
Do they support a ban on same-sex marriage in Colorado?
Do they support a lawsuit against President Barack Obama for over-stepping his authority in executive actions?
Do they believe humans have largely caused climate change?
Should there be a minimum tax on the rich?
Do they support Amendment 68, which would extend gambling to a race track within the 6th district?
A Competitive Race Means Nerves Get Frayed
The testy nature of the debates so far is a testament to how tight the race has become.
The battle for the 6th congressional district is certainly the closest House race in Colorado this year, and it’s one of the most competitive and costly in the nation. Outside groups and congressional committees have funneled money at the race in the hopes, or fears, that the seat may change hands.
Coffman has represented the 6th since 2008. No Democrat has ever held the seat.
The 6th, a largely suburban district that hugs Denver to the east, is now much more competitive after its boundaries were redrawn in 2010. Nearly evenly divided by Democrats, Republicans and independents, it’s composed of the western portions of Adams and Arapahoe counties and part of northern Douglas County. Its major cities are Brighton, Centennial and Littleton and parts of Aurora.
President Barack Obama won the district by 5 percent in 2012 and lost it by 7 percent in 2008.
This isn’t Romanoff’s first run at national office. In 2010, he unsuccessfully bid for Sen. Ken Salazar’s seat in a primary against Bennet after Salazar left Congress to join Obama’s cabinet. Romanoff was the Colorado Speaker of the House from 2005 to 2008.
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– Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com