- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2014

DENVER | The Colorado Senate candidates held their first debate Saturday, an event that was nearly overshadowed by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s retreat from his earlier push for a series of debates.

Shortly before the forum sponsored by Club 20 in Grand Junction, the news broke that the Udall campaign had passed on requests for candidate debates from two Denver television stations, even though Mr. Udall had twice challenged his Republican opponent Rep. Cory Gardner over the summer to a “series” of debates.

“You and I both agree that holding a series of open and honest debates is first and foremost about the people of Colorado,” said Mr. Udall in an August letter.

SEE ALSO: Gardner leapfrogs Udall on ‘war on women’ with ad calling for over-the-counter Pill

Right now that “series of open and honest debates” boils down to two: Saturday’s Club 20 debate, which was not broadcast, and an Oct. 15 debate on KUSA-TV in Denver.

Udall campaign spokesman Chris Harris blamed the decision on those in the Gardner camp, telling the Durango Herald that they “refused to work with us to find dates,” but KDVR-TV political reporter Eli Stokols had another version of events.

“After refusing to discuss our request to hold a debate for two months, Mark Udall’s campaign informed us today they don’t have time to do our debate,” Mr. Stokols told the Herald. “This from a senator who’s had the time to climb mountains on his three-week recess.

SEE ALSO: Colorado Senate race a ‘nail-biter’ between Udall, Gardner: poll

“Obviously, the senator is making the same calculation incumbents often make to limit debates,” Mr. Stokols said. “It may be a smart one.”

The Udall campaign had moved to lower expectations before Saturday’s debate by describing the 40-year-old Mr. Gardner in media reports as a “polished debater” and “courtroom trained politician.” Mr. Udall, 64, is better known for his skills as an outdoorsman than an orator, a point driven home after the debate by the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Megan Schrader.

“U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner talked rapidly and aggressively Saturday night in the Republican’s effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, and at times the incumbent’s slower, deliberate answers came across like he was a deer caught in the headlights,” according to her post-debate report.

Mr. Gardner had accepted invitations to six Senate debates before Mr. Udall’s first letter challenging him to a debate in June, according to a June 25 press release from Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano.

Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short followed up Sunday with an email entitled, “Looks like debate prep hasn’t been going well for Udall.”

“The day after flip flopping on his own challenge by backing out of two major televised debates, Udall came out flat against Cory Gardner in last night’s meeting between the two candidates,” said Mr. Short.

Meanwhile, Craig Hughes, consultant for NextGen Climate CO, an anti-Gardner group, wasn’t impressed with the Republican congressman’s performance.

“Tonight, we watched Congressman Gardner’s very public — and at times very awkward — struggle between his record and his campaign spin,” Mr. Hughes told the Denver Post.

The tight contest has drawn national attention as one of a handful that could decide control of the Senate. The RealClearPolitics average has Mr. Udall running three percentage points ahead.

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