Iran, coal, health care, trade: A three-way Senate debate in Grand Junction hits all the expected notes

The first debate in the U.S. Senate race between Republican challenger Darryl Glenn and Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet took place Saturday in Grand Junction.

Your humble correspondent was not in a position to travel to the Western Slope this weekend, but we have three accounts of the debate from three Colorado publications. If a recording of the debate surfaces, we’ll post it here, but inquiries on Friday made it sound like that was not in the works.

The debate was hosted by Club 20, a business-oriented policy group that works on issues important to western Colorado.

Libertarian Lily Tang Williams shared the stage, the first time a third-party candidate has done so, as the Libertarians passed the 1 percent of registered voters mark. The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins said Williams’ presence was “great,” a chance to shake up the established narratives and draw laughs from the crowd with suggestions that politicians should wear body cameras, while the Denver Post said she “watered down” what could have been a “potent mix.”

Green Party candidate Arn Menconi was in the audience but not on stage.

The Denver Post wrote last month about Glenn’s “failure to launch” after his underdog primary win. This was not just the newspaper’s analysis but the worry of Republican strategists that the self-described “unapologetic Christian conservative” wasn’t getting himself in front of general election voters or shifting his focus to appeal more to moderates and independents.

Glenn apparently did not use that line in Grand Junction, instead focusing on the idea of Bennet as an out-of-touch Washington insider.

“Michael Bennet has done a good job representing Washington,” Glenn said. “He has not done a good job of representing you.”

Here’s the Post on the exchange that followed:

Glenn took the fight to Bennet early in the debate, saying he had traveled the state talking to people about issues such as jobs and affordable health care. He challenged Bennet to come back from Washington and listen to constituents.

“These people are not being listened to,” Glenn said. “I’m doing his job, because it’s one of these things that people are feeling extremely frustrated about, because they don’t think they have a voice.”

Bennet replied he had “spent countless hours” talking with state’s residents, and accused Glenn of changing his position on whether he would vote to confirm President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

Bennet has made his bipartisan work on distinctly non-sexy issues that affect the lives of ordinary Coloradans the centerpiece of his campaign. His ads talk about victories like making it easier for breweries to sell spent grain to farmers as cattle feed.

Grand Junction’s Daily Sentinel describes Bennet defending his record not just on clean energy jobs — Bennet supports extending tax credits for wind and solar while Glenn opposes them — but also on coal.

“A lot in this room worked with me to protect jobs at Colowyo mine” in Moffat County, when a judge ruled that the federal government hadn’t done the necessary work in approving expansion there, Bennet said.

Glenn also went after Bennet for his support of the Iran deal and for refusing to discuss whether payments the U.S. made to Iran constituted ransom for hostages. Bennet had said earlier this summer that he would say more after he was briefed. On Saturday, he said that briefing was confidential.

Here’s the Colorado Independent:

During a testy exchange, Glenn asked Bennet if he thought the U.S. paid a ransom to release prisoners from Iran as part of President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.

“I was briefed on that last week in a classified setting and my answer is that you do not know the answer to that,” Bennet said.

This was interesting because weeks ago Bennet had said in an interview with a newspaper that he had questions about the U.S. delaying a $400 million payment to Iran until hostages were released, and that he’d look into it. “As soon as I get back in September, I want to get briefed on that. And then I’d be happy to answer the question,” he told the paper.

So, what did he learn that he didn’t say during the debate?

“Bennet supports longstanding policy that we shouldn’t pay ransom for hostages and based on what he’s heard, he has no reason to believe that the US has violated that policy,” says his campaign spokeswoman Alyssa Roberts.

Republicans have made the Iran deal a key issue in the campaign against Bennet.

Bennet went after Glenn for comments he made during the primary that decried compromise and working across the aisle.

Here, again, is the Independent:

At one point, Bennet asked Glenn about statements he has made, such as how he doesn’t know any elected Democrats he gets along with, and how he’s “running against Democrats … running against evil,” and is tired of hearing about Republicans reaching across the aisle.

“Your policies and views … are far to the right of many Colorado Republicans,” Bennet said. “How exactly would you get anything done and live up to your own standards?”

Glenn didn’t answer, and instead spun it into an attack on Bennet’s support for the Iran nuclear deal and Obamacare.

It’s not clear yet when Glenn and Bennet might appear on the same stage in the Denver area. Glenn has said he will not talk to the Denver Post because of how they reported on an old arrest — he originally denied ever having been arrested, despite public records indicating he had, then issued an explanation of the events of that night — and that boycott extends to refusing to participate in a proposed Senate debate hosted jointly by the Denver Post and Channel 7.

Glenn said Saturday he would like to see a town hall-style debate forum, while Williams said Bennet should debate her even if Glenn refuses to participate.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, or @meltzere.