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Gardner, Hickenlooper face off in final senatorial debate

U.S. senatorial candidates Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper debated Tuesday night over issues ranging from the COVID-19 response to health care, racial justice, Colorado’s role in addressing climate change and more, offering voters another glimpse of both candidates ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Colorado’s previous senatorial debate on Oct. 2 touched on similar topics, including health care and the state response to COVID-19, and it saw attacks from Gardner regarding Hickenlooper’s previous ethics violations as former Colorado governor.


Throughout the evening, Gardner repeatedly went on the offensive, often using his allotted response time to pose his own questions to Hickenlooper, who continued to defend his record from his time as governor.

The first question of the evening addressed the Colorado COVID-19 response, asking both candidates what they believed was the most important improvement needed in the Colorado pandemic response and the challenges to enacting it.

Gardner began with stating his support for passing additional relief packages out of the U.S. Congress, including funding for small businesses in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program as well as additional funding for education, child care and vaccine research.

“I don’t think (health care) needs to be a zero-sum game.” -Cory Gardner, Colorado senate candidate

Gardner also said he wants to ensure individuals are following public health guidelines before going on the offensive, claiming that Hickenlooper wouldn’t have passed relief, citing Hickenlooper saying so himself.  

Although Hickenlooper has criticized the relief bill proposed by Senate Republicans, he has not explicitly stated that he would have voted against it. 

“The GOP’s partisan ‘skinny relief’ bill doesn’t do nearly enough to help Americans who are struggling to put food on the table and pay their bills,” Hickenlooper wrote in a Sept. 10 tweet. “Enough with the bickering and political stunts. Coloradans needed relief months ago — and Washington needs to get its act together.”

In a similar vein, health care was of particular focus throughout the evening, specifically the Affordable Care Act. The ACA has long been criticized by Gardner, who has made it an objective to repeal the ACA, according to The Colorado Sun.

Gardner was asked whether or not his goal of repealing the Affordable Care Act had shifted following the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx American communities.

Gardner responded by stating, “Under my plan, we will focus on a patient-centered care system,” before saying that his own plan would increase quality of care by reducing medical care costs through reinsurance programs and risk pools.


“I don’t think it needs to be a zero-sum game,” Gardner said before claiming that Hickenlooper’s plan would replace the ACA with a government-run health care program that would “take over 176 million people’s insurance plans away from employers.”

While fact-checking the debate, The Collegian found that Hickenlooper never planned to replace the ACA, but instead worked with former Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2017 to make proposed amendments to it. 

Revisiting the topic of candidate character, one question directly addressed Gardner’s change of attitude toward allowing the nomination of a Supreme Court justice following a vacancy during an election year. 

Gardner said his original perspective against the nomination four years ago followed suit with the precedence laid out at the time, and that his perspective for the nomination was in line with the “precedence laid out in the near 1800s.”

“Just because you have one environmental bill doesn’t make you an environmentalist.” -John Hickenlooper, Colorado senate candidate

Gardner then accused Hickenlooper of withholding an answer on whether or not Hickenlooper supported court packing as a retaliatory action. 

Court packing, adding additional judges to the circuit of the Supreme Court in order to tilt the views of a court, has grown in political conversations since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month. 

“I don’t like the idea of court packing,” Hickenlooper said, but avoided a yes or no answer when prompted to do so. 

The candidates also argued on the topic of environmental protection and addressing climate change in Colorado. 

Gardner repeatedly accused Hickenlooper of supporting a “further than Green New Deal” and purposely destroying the jobs of fossil fuel employees in the city of Craig, Colorado, citing a Hickenlooper ad in which the former governor proudly discusses closing two coal-fired power plants. 

Simultaneously, Gardner touted the recently passed Great American Outdoors Act, which he supported in the Senate, calling it “the most important conservation legislation passed in this country in over 50 years.”

Hickenlooper criticized Gardner, first for his voting to put a former coal lobbyist in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency and second for his continued support of the Trump Administration, which has a tally of 68 EPA rollbacks relating to clean air, water and land, with 32 more in progress, according to The New York Times

“Just because you have one environmental bill doesn’t make you an environmentalist,” Hickenlooper said. 

Colorado started to mail out ballots Oct. 9, and citizens can mail their ballots to the Larimer County Clerk and Recorder in time for the election or put them in drop boxes across the county through 7 p.m. Election Day.

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Sam Moccia and Natalie Weiland can be reached at or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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