In final debate, Gardner and Hickenlooper tread new ground

With ballots sitting on kitchen tables across the state, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and his Democratic opponent, John Hickenlooper, met in Fort Collins on Tuesday night for the fourth and final debate in their nationally watched race.

The hour-long discussion, broadcast live on 9News and other stations across Colorado, featured many of the same accusations and policy points that defined the first three debates, but also tread new ground on both policies and personas.

Hickenlooper answered, for the first time, a question about adding justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, an idea floated by the left wing of his party. He compared Republicans’ confirmation of more than 200 judges and justices in recent years to adding additional seats to the Supreme Court, sometimes called court packing.

“It’s a hypothetical,” Hickenlooper said of adding justices. “Let’s put it this way: I don’t like the idea of court packing. We’re seeing it right now. We’re seeing court packing in full fury and it doesn’t make any sense to me. I think if you get new people to Washington, you won’t have to do that kind of institutional change.”

Gardner, a Yuma Republican, portrayed himself, as he often does, as a bipartisan senator willing to break with his party and the president in order to get things done.

“I fought against my party on immigration, because I believe we need an immigration policy that works,” he said. “I fought against my party on marijuana legalization, because I believe states’ rights matter and the state of Colorado is leading the way. I fought against my party when it comes to conservation, that’s why we convinced the president to change his mind on permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. I have passed 11 bills into law.”

Faced with pointed questions about President Donald Trump, whom Gardner has endorsed, the senator said the president is moral and ethical but must do a better job communicating with the American people. He also said the president must make clear there will be a peaceful transition of power, something he hasn’t done.

“The president should be crystal clear. Every single person in this country should be crystal clear. There will be a peaceful transition of power. There’s no doubt about that,” Gardner said, calling it “the hallmark of democracy.”

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, faced questions about his ethical lapses. In June, he was found to have violated the state’s gift ban on two occasions and given the largest fine in Independent Ethics Commission history. He was also held in contempt after refusing to comply with a subpoena to testify about those violations.

“I paid the $2,800 fine, I take responsibility for that. I will certainly make sure that that never happens again. I testified for three hours before the commission and told the truth to every question they asked,” Hickenlooper said of the ethics case.

Gardner was asked about the QAnon conspiracy theory and Lauren Boebert, his party’s candidate in the 3rd Congressional District, whom Gardner has appeared alongside at campaign events. On one occasion in May, Boebert expressed some interest in the conspiracy theory, but has repeatedly made clear since that she does not believe in the far-right fringe idea or sympathize with those who do.

“I don’t believe in QAnon and, yes, I believe they’re a threat,” Gardner said.

“If you listen to Lauren Boebert, she has said she did not (express support for QAnon) and does not … I’m not here to defend Lauren Boebert for something she did or did not say. You can take your own interpretation of what she did or did not say. I take her at her word that she does not believe or support QAnon.”

The two candidates disagreed on Proposition 113, the national popular vote compact, with Hickenlooper in favor and Gardner opposed. Asked about Proposition 115, banning abortion after 22 weeks, Gardner said he supports it and Hickenlooper said he opposes it. On Proposition 118, regarding paid family leave, Hickenlooper will vote in support and Gardner said he is undecided for now.

Near the end of the debate, the candidates were asked whether their opponent is moral and ethical. Hickenlooper said Gardner is but Gardner did not return the favor, saying he has “grave concerns” about Hickenlooper’s ethical lapses.

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