by TH Phillips
The second gubernatorial debate in as many weeks had it all: thorny insinuations, slick oratorical escapes, and a handshake photo-op. They also talked a bit about Colorado issues. The debate between incumbent John Hickenlooper and challenger Bob Beauprez was hosted by the Denver Post. The sold-out event was also live streamed on the Post’s website.
At the outset, it looked like Hickenlooper was having an off night. The sitting governor, known for his smooth-talking affability, stumbled over his words and seemed to lack focus. After those awkward opening minutes, he seemed to settle into a groove and produced higher-quality answers throughout the rest of the debate.
Conversely, Beauprez was poised and collected from the start. He even dressed the part, his neatly pressed suit and tie contrasting the governor’s more casual tie-free blazer look. Beauprez’s biggest weakness was his dependence throughout the debate on criticizing Hickenlooper.
The debate kept returning to a few main themes, most notably the death penalty and abortion.
Several times throughout the debate, Beauprez brought up the governor’s decision to grant “an indefinite stay of execution” – rather than clemency – to convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap. The challenger insinuated that it demonstrated a lack of leadership and bravery.
Hickenlooper’s responses were as predictable as the attacks. Each time, his response would include, nearly verbatim, “the government should not be in the business of taking people’s lives.” He also cited the emergence of new evidence as support for his decision. He claimed he hoped his actions would spur a discussion on the death penalty and that he was “glad it has.”
Beauprez took some fire for his historical record on abortion. Citing comments from 2006, the moderators noted that Beauprez was once publicly opposed to all abortion outside of cases in which the mother’s life was in danger. Hickenlooper cited his opponent’s refusal to support Colorado’s recently-proposed “personhood amendment” which would have granted all unborn fetuses the same legal protection as any person.
The GOP challenger stood by his pro-life views while deftly affirming his dislike for the personhood amendment, stating he “[didn’t] think it was the right way to go about” abortion reform. He also said he would support any “different conclusions” of others – like the Supreme Court – suggesting he wouldn’t fight any new abortion-friendly laws. He was also quick to affirm that he would uphold his gubernatorial oath to enforce Colorado’s current laws.
Despite having many instances of tense contention, there were a few moments where the candidates were able to find common ground.
During the yes/no portion of the debate, the debaters agreed on most of the topics. In what may have been a clever question-dodge, Hickenlooper proposed a handshake agreement to stop attack ads and Beauprez accepted. When the moderators had trouble keeping track of whose turn it was to answer, both candidates were quick to keep the debate on track, often eliciting a laugh from the audience.
In all, Hickenlooper rarely referred to his opponent. Beauprez, on the other hand, referenced the governor at every turn.