Hickenlooper, Beauprez, Udall & Gardner spar in opening debates

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner took every opportunity to tie Democratic Sen. Mark Udall to President Obama and his vote for the Affordable Care Act during their first debate Saturday night here at Club 20's fall meeting.

Udall, who is seeking a second term, defended his record, argued that he's opposed the White House on some issues and sought to paint Gardner as a hard-core partisan who's voted with House Republicans to repeal Obamacare 52 times.

"How could you shut down the government?" Udall asked Gardner at the end of the hour-long debate, referring to House Republicans decision to shut down the government last fall in an effort to stop the implementation of Obamacare just weeks after floods ravaged part of northern Colorado.

"I can't believe you're politicizing this tragedy," Gardner shot back.

When the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions, Gardner pressed Udall about his statement in 2008 that he didn't support a "government-sponsored solution" to healthcare.

"A government takeover of healthcare doesn't exist," Udall responded, explaining that the Affordable Care Act mandates that people purchase private insurance plans.

"When you promised people, 'If you like your health care plan you can keep it,' when did you realize that was a lie?" Gardner continued.

Before Udall offered much of answer, Gardner cut him off, as the rules of the debate allowed.

When it was Udall's turn, he cited Gardner's votes to defund Planned Parenthood, restrict access to birth control and to ban abortion.

"How can women and families trust you not to interfere with their personal health decisions?" Udall asked.

Gardner responded by saying he looked forward to creating jobs for women.

In the undercard, the debate between Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Bob Beauprez, the exchanges were just as feisty, with Beauprez also trying to tie the incumbent Democrat to the unpopular president.

"You and your buddy Barack Obama believe the solution to everything is big government," Beauprez said.

Hickenlooper, who chided Beauprez for "Washington-style" attacks several times, defended the federal government's management of some Colorado lands, his decision not to pressure the administration on the Keystone pipeline and he offered a full-throated defense of Obamacare.

"In 2011, we had 100,000 people in this state denied insurance because of preexisting conditions. If we roll this back as the congressman wants to do, what are we going to do for them?" Hickenlooper said. "We're not going back."

Hickenlooper made a strong case for managing the competing interests of homeowners and the oil and gas industry, arguing that his success in forging a last-minute agreement to avert a ballot initiative fight this fall allows time for stakeholders to settle the issue of local control more constructively without threatening the industry as a whole.

But Beauprez pressed Hickenlooper effectively during the cross-examination portion of the debate when he asked the governor to promise that he wouldn't grant death row inmate Nathan Dunlap full clemency should he lose the election, as he hinted he might during an interview with CNN earlier this year.

"I won't revisit that decision," Hickenlooper said.