by Ralph Routon
One apparent consensus emerged Friday night at Colorado College after the U.S. Senate Democratic debate: Few, if any, minds were changed.
If you like Sen. Michael Bennet, you believe he won. If you like former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, you feel just as certain that he prevailed. And if you were undecided, that's probably still the case.
The crowd of 200 inside Gaylord Hall at CC's Worner Student Center was well-behaved, following instructions by staying quiet and not applauding throughout the fast-paced hour of questions and answers. The event was organized by the Independent and NewsChannel 13.
Romanoff came out much more aggressively from the start, criticizing some of Bennet's actions and tying campaign donations to legislative actions in his 15 months since being appointed to the Senate as Ken Salazar's replacement. Romanoff focused on a few issues such as health care reform, particularly Bennet's early stance but later silence on the public option, with Romanoff accusing the senator of "writing a letter and calling it leadership."
Bennet had a less forceful beginning, saying there were "no policy distinctions" between the two candidates and suggesting that he wished they could talk more about the Republicans. But Bennet succeeded in matching Romanoff's aggressiveness as the debate wore on, dealing with issues such as China, which the senator alleged "has clearly been manipulating its currency" to its economic advantage.
Both said they opposed Army plans for expanding its Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado. They differed on a question of whether Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke deserved another term, with Romanoff less than supportive while Bennet said he voted to retain Bernanke in part because nobody else could have won confirmation.
Afterward, common sentiments among undecided observers included that Bennet probably came across a little better than they expected, while Romanoff did more to define differences between the two.
In other words, what happened Friday night shouldn't have a big influence on the Aug. 10 primary outcome. But Romanoff did make it clear, in his opening statement, that he would support Bennet in November if Bennet wins the primary. Bennet, despite agreeing with many of Romanoff's points, still did not make the same promise to his challenger.
Both campaigns put out statements afterward, spinning certain points their way. Some examples...
From Romanoff's side:
Sen. Bennet skirts question connecting contributions to inaction on predatory lending
Sen. Bennet continued to dodge questions and duck responsibility tonight. He refused to explain his decision to accept a contribution from Westwood College on March 19 — three days before his committee failed to protect students from Westwood’s predatory lending practices. When Speaker Romanoff asked Sen. Bennet if this was simply the way Washington worked, Bennet replied: “I don’t know.”
Speaker Romanoff successfully brought to light similar examples of Sen. Bennet responding to legislation influenced by corporate contributions and quietly selling out the interests of those he was appointed to serve. Among the issues cited were Sen. Bennet’s turnabout on the public option and his voting against legislation that would have allowed the courts to protect homeowners from foreclosure.
The evening dramatically demonstrated how Sen. Bennet’s pattern of quiet corporate-funded retreat on matters of substance is in fact the way business is done in Washington — the real answer to the question the Senator dodged.
And from Bennet's campaign:
Romanoff continues political assault in Colorado Springs debate
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO (April 23, 2010) — By pointing to solutions instead of launching tired political attacks, Sen. Michael Bennet set himself apart as the candidate focused on the needs of Coloradans and the best choice for Democrats in August. Although Former Speaker Romanoff has nearly two decades of political experience and is a polished debater, Michael won the day with thoughtful ideas and genuine concern for Coloradans.
“We couldn’t be happier with the outcome of the debate. Michael came here with the hope of having conversation with voters about his plan to fix a broken Washington and find real solutions for Colorado families, he did that tonight,” said Trevor Kincaid, Bennet for Colorado spokesman.
Sen. Bennet has a history of results in Southern Colorado. Over the past year, he has fought hard for a veterans’ cemetery, secured funding for the Ark-Fry conduit that will provide clean water for the next century, and has worked hand-in-hand Rep. John Salazar to achieve.
On Monday, Sen. Bennet will return to Washington, DC to focus on finishing the important work of financial regulatory reform that will protect Colorado’s families from the fraud and abuse that lead to this recession and hurt so many in our community. Sen. Bennet has been an advocate for accountability on Wall Street and an end to the to-big-to-fail mindset that is credited with America’s near financial collapse