UPDATE 11:20AM: American Bridge now eagerly circulating what could be the defining moment of today's debate, in which GOP Rep. Mike Coffman forgets something very, very important about his position on abortion rights:
Like we said, this will be in a TV spot very soon. Maybe more than one.
It’s time to fire up the Colorado Pols Debate Diary once again. That's right, friends: It's live-blog time!
It has become something of a tradition here at Colorado Pols for us to give you, our loyal readers, a live blog, play-by-play of political debates in Colorado. This morning (yes, morning), we're at the Hilton Garden Inn in Highlands Ranch for the first CD-6 debate between Congressman Mike Coffman and Democrat Andrew Romanoff.
*NOTE: The most current update appears at the top of the page. As always, unless it is in direct quotes, consider all statements paraphrased in the interest of time.
If campaigns were decided in debates, Andrew Romanoff would be a shoo-in for Congress. He's a much better speaker, much better prepared, and has a general way with the audience that draws people in. Romanoff also stayed on topic and had a few good jabs at Coffman.
As for Coffman, he seemed…off. Coffman stumbled badly on a couple of questions, particularly one about abortion rights. It would be hard to walk away from this debate remembering much of anything from Coffman that was generally positive. His dour, somewhat angry demeanor was a stark contrast to a fresher Romanoff.
Coffman's closing statements.
Says he moved to Aurora 50 years ago. Father was enlisted soldier who dreamed of owning a small business. Says mother and father worked very hard on that business, but it failed. Whenever I see a small business shutter, I often think that there is a family behind it.
This is good stuff from Coffman. Where was this earlier?
Coffman continuing story about Coffman and Co. HVAC that still exists today?
Coffman is telling his life story now. Hard to make transition from military to business life. Says he took savings and built a small business.
Talking way too much about military transition to civilian life; it's a good anecdote, but not worth 2 minutes in a debate.
Finishes with something about finding solutions. Pretty weak close.
Closing statement time. Each candidate gets 4 minutes for some reason.
Romanoff: We've known each other for at least 15 years. We disagree on a number of issues, but not on our love for this country. That's not at issue in this debate.
Says strengthening economy starts with improving access to higher education. Strengthen middle class with equal pay for equal work. New energy economy.
Talks about leading House of Representatives when Republican Bill Owens was governor. "We never shut down the whole government over our issues."
"I respect Congressman Coffman. We take a different view…but I believe he is sincere in his views."
"If you elect me to the House of Representatives, I can't promise I will get everything done. But if we elect the same crowd, nothing is going to change." Great close.
Last question about wildfires. Why has federal government been so inept at dealing with wildfires.
Coffman: Says he visited local responders and they do a great job. Says something about how the problem is that we have too many trees — seriously. Says government should allow more logging. That was a TERRIBLE answer.
Romanoff: Brings fire season back to causes by talking about Climate Change. Even if you don't believe the science, we should do what we can to make things safer, etc.
Harber asks Coffman if he would like to respond to Climate Change question.
Coffman: "I think we need to do everything we can…to bring down carbon." Says when he was elected in 1999, met with Ambassador to China who told him his country appreciates everything U.S. does to combat Climate Change. Basically says that China needs to do more.
Question on Keystone Pipeline. Why are we talking about this?
Romanoff: This should be decided on science — let's see what the science says.
Coffman: Says Romanoff is afraid to make a decision. Says it is less of an environmental risk to move oil by pipeline than by rail from Canada. That may be true, but it's not like these are the only two options on the table.
Question about fracking.
Coffman: If not properly regulated, can have catastrophic consequences.
Romanoff: Protect air and water. Accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy.
Much better answer from Romanoff, showing a better grasp of the issue overall.
Question about Citizens United.
Romanoff: "I disagree with Citizens United, and I think most Americans do, too. Corporations are not people. Money is not speech." Jokes about having Members of Congress wear labels showing who supports them. "I don't believe Congressional seats should be sold to the highest bidder."
Coffman: Stumbling badly now. Says something like, I think most people in this room would agree that special interests are not the same as lobbyists. You went to Harvard and Yale, and I went to the Marine Corps. "You're going to follow…and I lead." W…T…F???
Romanoff: I respect your service, Congressman, and I would ask you to respect my service as well. I've asked my staff to give you that respect. "If you want to demonstrate leadership on this issue, join me, right now, on this stage, to turn down special interest and PAC money. We could make national news right now. Will you join me?"
Coffman: "I think everybody in this room is a special interest. You follow, I lead." Coffman has morphed into the angry old man yelling at the kids to get off his lawn. The crowd is rumbling at what was clearly a lame dodge.
Harber asks question about Export-Import bank.
Coffman: Speaker Romanoff was railing against corporate tax breaks. Let's see what he says to this one.
Romanoff: I'm not always going to agree with the administration, but in this issue, I think the business community and the administration are correct on this one.
Harber asks if U.S. should have a Value Added Tax like in other countries.
Romanoff: Says Coffman has voted repeatedly to approve tax breaks for companies that move overseas. Says he talked recently with small business owners who say that they can't compete with Fortune 500 companies that have big lobbying firms, etc.
"I would vote against tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas." Says Coffman's record doesn't match rhetoric, because he has regularly voted for tax breaks for companies that outsource work.
"I'd love to see those votes," says Coffman. Maybe he's trying to make a joke?
"I'll be casting those votes in January," smiles Romanoff in quick reply.
Next Question: Are we creating serious inter-generational problem with economic policy? Somewhere a policy geek just pooped his pants.
Romanoff: We need to help folks who are playing by the rules and working hard to get ahead. The free-market is the single most effective economic engine ever invented…Need skilled workforce, reliable regulations…
Coffman: "We need tax reform. Our tax code is far too complicated." Says we should reduce credits and deductions allowed to corporations.
Romanoff: "Why isn't he running for the Senate?" Crowd laughs.
Romanoff says blame goes to both parties, and interest groups are blocking reform. You can follow the money. Pharmaceutical industry opposes plan to allow Health and Human Services Dept. to negotiate better drug discounts, which is why it doesn't happen.
Romanoff says Coffman has supported plans to make Senior Citizens pay more money in out-of-pocket costs. Says that is wrong choice.
Next question: How do we have a Republican-controlled House with huge deficits?
Coffman: "We need a Republican-controlled Senate." Coffman is really starting to stumble — he seems thrown off by botching the last question. Coffman starts talking gibberish about economic buzzwords to finish his turn.
Coffman now talking about reducing Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps. Why?
Next question: Where do you stand on women's rights on abortion?
Oohs and ahhs from the crowd expecting interesting answers.
Coffman: "I do not support Personhood. I support a woman's access to…certainly…this Hobby Lobby decision…to get…uh…birth control." Holy shit — this was about the worst answer Coffman could have given. You will be seeing this in a TV ad very, very soon.
Romanoff: "I believe a woman's right to choose should be protected."
Coffman says that he dropped out of Congressional health plan. Bought insurance through exchange. On the surface, doesn't look a lot different.
Coffman just rambled off 15 different numbers about how deductibles have changed, etc. No idea what he said.
Next question: Should we repeal or fix Obamacare?
Romanoff: We should fix it, not replace it…with nothing. I was disappointed with rollout of law. Says he is not someone who is going to defend the administration at every turn. "What the country needs is neither blind loyalty or blind opposition…people more interested in solving problems than just pointing fingers and picking fights." Huge applause.
Next question: What cuts could we make in the budget that would be substantive — significant changes?
Coffman: "Well, I have voted for budgets." Cool. Do you want a trophy for that?
Coffman says our debt is our greatest national security problem. Says Romanoff has ad on TV about cutting budget but put forward no plan for balanced budget. Calls out Romanoff and demands plan for balanced budget.
Harber interrupts and asks Coffman to answer the question. Great job of moderating.
Coffman says "repealing and replacing Obamacare" is his first choice. Crowd erupts in equal part applause and boos.
Romanoff's turn: "We laid out a plan on our website and in an Op-Ed." Says he has balanced budget in Colorado before, and did it every year he was in charge. Says we should look at GAO office recommendations for sustainable cuts. "The best way to balance the budget is to grow the economy." Give Government ability to negotiate better prices in pharmaceutical industry. Address fraud in Medicare. Illegal immigration changes would balance our budget.
"I'm willing to bet that everybody in this room pays the taxes they owe. But a lot of folks outside this room don't." We need to crack down on retreiving the $400-500 billion per year that are uncollected in tax revenues — almost the same size as the deficit.
Next question: We spend almost $1 trillion per year on our military and defense. Would it make sense to take a small portion of that budget and dedicate it to building schools, eradicating diseases, etc., around the world?
Coffman: I break with my Republicans on this. They use the same metric that liberals use for their programs — it's about how much you spend versus what you are spending it on. Good answer for Coffman. Says military is unbelievably top-heavy.
Romanoff: World is a very dangerous place. I do believe that diplomacy and trade should be essential pieces of military strategy. Good for national defense, and good for economic opportunity in CD-6. Says we should build money for veterans into any spending bill on military so that we are able to pay for care when they return.
We're back after a short break. Harber says answers will be restricted to 1 minute. It will be interesting to see if this is good or bad for Coffman.
Lots of prominent politicos in the crowd here. Josh Penry, Mike Melanson, Joe Rice, etc.
Next question: What is our role in Afghanistan?
Romanoff says not sorry to see Karzai outed as Afghanistan President. "America can't solve these problems on our own."
Coffman: "I've pushed investigations into corruption of the Afghan government." Says Karzai was head of a criminal enterprise, then drones on for awhile before pausing to collect his thoughts. Tells story about visiting Afghanistan and learning that they are having trouble training Afgans to be soldiers. "We just need to be realistic and say, 'What works in their culture?'" Says he doesn't understand difference between Bush doctrine and Obama doctrine.
Next question about rebels in Syria. Was that a mistake to not aid rebels in Syria? Could we have prevented ISIS?
Romanoff: "It's tough to go back in time and guess at a different response." Says Obama should not have made threats we can't keep in Syria. Says alternatives to President Assad were not much more palatable to Syrians.
Coffman: The Assad regime goes back to the Sunni/Shia battle. Coffman sort of sounds like he knows what he is talking about, but he speaks so fast and uses so many buzzwords that it's very difficult to follow where he is trying to go with his answer. "There is an element of cultural imperialism there." See what we mean?
"Andrew, you have 12 minutes," jokes Harber.
Romanoff says he agrees with Coffman that no family should think that the loss of their children was without merit. "I agree with Congressman Coffman's analysis that we should support the Kurds as well."
Wow. Big morning for the Kurds. We'd make an inappropriate joke here about Ms. Muffet, but we don't have enough time.
Coffman is still talking about Iraq and Afghanistan and 9/11. No idea what he just said.
Next question about Iraq: Was the war in Iraq a mistake, and does the U.S. have the capability to admit when it made a mistake?
Coffman: "In 2005, I resigned as State Treasurer to return to Iraq." Says he did so not because he agreed with invasion, but because we needed to make sure that America never goes down this path again to invade and occupy another country. Says he did not support President Obama's recent involvement in Iraq.
Coffman now talking about Sunnis and Shiites. He just lost everyone's attention.
"Kurds are a different issue, and I think we should support Kurds." That might be our favorite line of the morning thus far.
Next question: Fixing VA facilities, particularly in Colorado.
Romanoff: Project has been behind schedule and over-budget.
Coffman: "I have bi-partisan legislation that will be voted on next month."
Long pause. Is that it? Nope…
"We have 3 hospitals in this country that the VA has under construction. Each one is, on average, hundreds of millions of dollars over-budget and behind schedule." Says his bill will give Army Corps of Engineers oversight to expedite projects.
Same question for Romanoff. Thanks veterans for their service — specifically those in the room.
Says he agrees with Coffman. "You don't have to disagree with your opponent on every issue." Must provide resources they need, respect they deserve, support they merit. We're not doing that today.
"I'll do everything I can to expedite those claims, to reduce the backlog, and make sure our veterans have the care…they need to resume civilian life. We owe them no less."
Very eloquent by Romanoff. He is clearly better than Coffman in this kind of forum.
Next question about fixing Veteran's Adminstration.
Coffman up first: Mumbles and stumbles for 20 seconds before offering some platitude about supporting veterans.
Says he was among first in House to call for resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (that spelling was done completely by memory, so if it's wrong — sorry).
Coffman says need to put more resources into the system to hire more doctors and nurses. Interesting answer for a Republican — he wants government to spend MORE money?
Coffman concludes with more rambling. He seems to have trouble keeping his thoughts together and forming a logical narrative with his answers. Coffman must have been in 50 debates by now in his career — how is he not better at this?
Romanoff: In Colorado's legislature, it takes two chambers to pass a bill. I recognize it's fashionable for one chamber to blame the other in Congress, but these are serious issues that demand serious answers.
Coffman with a joke: "Congress is a very deliberative body. They start the day slowly and then wind down from there."
Says that Romanoff is wrong and that Congress DID stay in session to finish this issue. Huh?
Coffman takes a moment to mention that he was recently watching Univision. Tries to recap that discussion. Nobody knows that the hell he is talking about now.
Harber asks what he calls a "two-part, semi-unrelated question."
Romanoff, laughing, "I'll give you a two-part, semi-unrelated answer." Hits Coffman and Congress for taking August recess without dealing with immigration crisis on the Mexican border. Says there are no serious bills being proposed that would provide legal status for illegal immigrants. Safety and security of people of South and Central America rests with their own governments.
Next question for Romanoff about his immigration leadership as Speaker of the House. What is your perspective today? Was it a mistake?
"I'm glad you asked this question, because this has been the subject of a great deal of misinformation," says Romanoff. Says special session in 2006 came from anti-immigration approach that was supported by then State Treasurer Coffman.
"Was it a perfect compromise? No, no compromise is. But if it had been embedded in the Constitution, it would have been hard to fix." We still need comprehensive FEDERAL immigration reform. Says Coffman has voted 3 times in favor of deporting children of illegal immigrants who are here through no fault of their own.
Absolute Home Run for Romanoff these last few minutes.
Next question for Coffman: Have your views evolved on immigration since saying that you were in lockstep agreement with former Rep. Tom Tancredo?
Coffman starts dodging madly. Says both Republicans and Democrats have done a bad job on this. Middle path is a step-by-step approach.
I can speak directly to the families in this district [because he has learned Spanish].
Same question for Coffman.
"We've got to have a system that is enforceable." Not an answer, but, okay.
Next question: Why don't employers have access to a government system to check on legal status for work?
Romanoff says he supports this idea. Talks to business owners who want to do the right thing but are undercut by people who don't follow the rules.
Harber says there must be 350 people here. He might be right.
"I support comprehensive immigration reform," says Romanoff. "I wouldn't be here — not just in Highlands Ranch, but in America — if this country had not opened its borders…I am the son and grandson of immigrants."
"A step-by-step process would be fine if Congress would take a single step."
[Coffman looks really pissed off, by the way.]
Talks about comprehensive immigration bill recently discussed in Congress.
What does Comprehensive Immigration Reform mean to you? Coffman goes first. This is an interesting question because just last July Coffman called for Comprehensive Immigration Reform before dumping the idea soon afterward.
"I believe in a step-by-step process of immigration reform," says Coffman. Must do three things: 1) secure borders and enforce laws, 2) immigration policies should grow the economy, and 3) we need to be compassionate and keep families together.
Same question for Coffman: "I think defense spending is for the defense of our nation, not for job creation." Tells story about being in Armed Services Committee and asking military officials about needs and surplus bases. Says he agrees with President Obama that we need to close more military bases, particularly overseas. This is a half-assed approach from Coffman — perhaps he's trying to differentiate himself from Romanoff by talking up his military background, but he doesn't say why that background applies here.
"I never thought they would close Lowry Air Force base, but they did."
Next question: What federal legislation would you support that is good for nation but not necessarily residents of CD-6.
Romanoff: "My goal is to represent CD-6…I think the residents of CD-6 deserve better amplification equipment." Great line with lots of laughs — microphones are problematic this morning. Says Congress would be better off if more districts were evenly-divided like CD-6. Talks positively about the district and diversity.
Same question for Romanoff: Direct benefit on day 1 if elected.
Romanoff says top priority is to get this economy moving again by growing the middle class. Make higher education more affordable. Lots of applause.
While this is no surprise, Romanoff is far and away the better speaker among the two candidates. He has a more commanding voice and a more personable approach.
Romanoff concludes to hoots and hollers from the crowd.
Right to the questions. No opening statements.
First question for Coffman: What would you do on day 1 in your next term for CD-6?
Coffman: "I'd continue doing a lot of the things I'm working on." Talks about manufacturing jobs in America. Mentions something called iTar reform (?). Says he has worked with Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet on this issue — looks like Coffman will make bi-partisanship a major issue this morning.
Says something about a trade bill with China. Or against China. Something.
"So where are we at with this time stuff?" asks Coffman. You can stop now.
Harber now introducing Romanoff. Highlights his time as Speaker of the House in Colorado.
Harber: "Did you drop out of high school?"
Coffman: "Yes, I did."
Okay, then. That really just happened.
Holy crap, there's a lot of people here. Did we mention that?
Harber is now reading biographical information about each candidate. We could probably skip this part.
Let's get to it. Harber introduces the candidates. Coffman is on the left, wearing a gray suit and maroon tie. Romanoff is in the middle, in a dark suit and light-blue tie.
Now we have another South Metro Chamber dude thanking more people. Were we supposed to sign up for the thank you line?
Some dude from the South Metro Chamber of Commerce kicks off the event. He actually said, "Let's get ready to rumble." Michael Buffer's attorneys are on Line 1.
Coin flip. Coffman calls heads, and heads it is. Coffman will defer. Romanoff will take the South end zone.
There are a lot of cameras and a lot of media here as well. Everybody knows it's 7:22 in the morning, right?
Longtime debate moderator and local TV host Aaron Harber is our moderator this morning at the South Metro Chamber of Commerce event. The conference room here is literally standing-room only. There was a police cruiser outside directing traffic. This is what a $23 million Congressional race looks like.