DENVER (CBS4) – Republican candidates for U.S. Senate sparred over everything from trade to Medicare reform at a debate hosted by CBS4’s Campaign 2016 partner Colorado Public Television.
Five Republicans will face off in the June primary.
The candidates include businessmen Robert Blaha and Jack Graham, former Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn and former State Representative John Keyser.
“When you run for the U.S. Senate, it’s a full game on. This is not for the faint of heart,” Blaha said.
The candidates’ resolve has certainly been tested. Just getting on the ballot has been an ordeal for most of them.
Blaha, Frazier and Keyser only made it on the ballot after the court found their petitions substantially compliant. The Secretary of State uses a strictly compliant standard.
Glenn, who was voted on the ballot at the state convention, said “this whole substantial compliance standard needs to be thrown out and addressed in the next cycle.
“I’m sorry. That’s what the role of the Secretary of State is,” Glenn said.
Frazier countered: “If the law is so stuck in last century that it prevents real people, valid Republicans who have expressed a support for someone to be on the ballot, should that voter’s intent be thrown away? I think that’s the reason we have the law so it can be interpreted by the courts.”
Tensions also mounted over whether Jack Graham — CSU’s former athletic director — should release his performance review. Robert Blaha stepped up pressure on Graham and Graham suggested Blaha was deploying a double standard.
“Robert, for example, just about a week ago lost his campaign manager and he was asked at that point in time if he would talk about what happened and his response was no it’s a private confidential personnel matter.”
Blaha shot back: “We’re talking about apples and oranges here. In one case we’re talking about document performance review that was negative.”
The candidates also sparred over policy issues like trade and, specifically, Donald Trump’s hardline stance against agreements like NAFTA.
“We have an opportunity to reignite the American spirit and allow more of our entrepreneurs to do business not only here in their backyards and neighborhoods but outside of our country giving them the opportunity to be prosperous and pass on that wealth to their children and grandchildren, so in this case I think Donald Trump is wrong,” Frazier said.
Graham disagreed, saying “I’m not here to defend what Donald Trump has to say but I will say I agree with him in the sense that I think we’ve negotiated some very poor trade agreements for the United States of America and we can do better.”
On gun control, Keyser explained a comment he made last year about background checks being the critical part of the gun reform legislation.
“A background check is ok. The NRA agrees with that by the way. But, the key is we have to make sure the background check is not infringing on the rights of the law abiding citizen,” he said.
They all agreed that life begins at conception and the immigration reform bill, passed by the U.S. Senate and sponsored by Bennet, didn’t go far enough to secure the borders. There was also general support for Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare. Keyser said changes shouldn’t be made to current retirees plans but added, “I absolutely believe in the free market. When people have choices they make the choices that work best for themselves.”
Blaha went a step further, “What I would say is that enough? Is that enough? If there’s anything we’ve seen in this very broken system, it’s that we need major reform and major changes. I like the idea of the states to go out and the states to take fifty laboratories of the best thoughts and create best ideas possible.”
When asked about his ability to work across party lines and get things done, Glenn said his role wasn’t to compromise.
“The bottom line is it’s not about reaching across the aisle. The bottom line is it’s about leadership,” he said.
The winner of the primary will take on incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, in November. The race is considered one of the tossups that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, which means we’ll see a lot of attention and money from out of state again this election year.