As the only televised debate in the race for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat began in Fort Collins on Friday night, each candidate stuck to some of their campaign’s most familiar themes.
High inflation, said Republican nominee Joe O’Dea, won’t subside “until we end the war on diesel, the frivolous spending and the government intervention.”
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, seeking a third full Senate term, touted his efforts to pass an expanded child tax credit and fix “an economy where for 50 years, even before this inflation, (working people) felt like they couldn’t get their families moving ahead.”
But the night soon took on a more contentious tone as the candidates exchanged some of their harshest words of the campaign to date, with Bennet growing visibly frustrated and O’Dea, who made several false or unsubstantiated claims throughout the debate, persisting in a debunked lie about Bennet’s legislative record despite repeated clarifications from moderators and his opponent.
O’Dea claimed four times during the debate, hosted by 9News, KRDO and Colorado Politics at Colorado State University, that Bennet had written “one bill in 13 years that became law.”
O’Dea’s lie rests on a misleading Congress.gov search result and a false impression of how legislation is routinely passed in Congress. A review of the congressional record shows dozens of substantive bills authored by Bennet have been passed and signed into law as part of larger packages of legislation.
“You’re a liar, Joe,” Bennet replied after O’Dea refused to retract the claim.
In an uphill battle to unseat Bennet in a state that has trended increasingly toward Democrats, O’Dea has sought to portray himself as a moderate, especially on social issues. He again affirmed his support for limited abortion rights early in pregnancy, and for preserving elements of the Affordable Care Act.
On most issues, however, he has remained staunchly aligned with his fellow Republicans, relentlessly criticizing President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats for their passage of a COVID-19 recovery bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, a package of clean energy and health care measures. On immigration, O’Dea has endorsed the completion of former President Donald Trump’s border wall and said Friday he would not support a stand-alone bill to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, insisting instead that it be paired with border funding.
“Michael Bennet doesn’t deliver results. What he does is vote with Joe Biden 98% of the time,” O’Dea said. “And the result is an economy that’s trashed. We’ve got a border that’s still wide open. It hasn’t been solved.”
Bennet defended the Inflation Reduction Act and other Democratic policies that he said were popular among Coloradans. He portrayed inflation as mostly the result of global economic conditions and supply chain issues, and objected to O’Dea’s characterization of government spending as having “paid people to sit on the couch at home.”
“I think it’s so insulting to Coloradans when Joe says that Coloradans need to get off the couch,” Bennet said. “People in this economy, with this inflation, are killing themselves – and even before it, they were killing themselves to afford housing, and health care, and higher education and early childhood education. The problem is not that people need to get off the couch.”
O’Dea said that while he wants to reduce the size of government, he would oppose any cuts to entitlement programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. While he falsely claimed that he had “been saying that all along,” he suggested to an interviewer in June that “in order to manage the debt, you’re going to have to grab everything,” and added that that would include a “reduction in some of those programs.”
O’Dea also sparred with moderators over unsubstantiated claims that his campaign advertisements had been censored by Google. He declined to provide evidence for the censorship claims, which continued to appear in online ads on Friday.
Following a Daily Beast report this month that Bennet had invested in a hedge fund that profited from the Puerto Rican debt crisis, O’Dea accused Bennet, who has endorsed a stock-trading ban for members of Congress, of hypocrisy.
Bennet said that his assets are held “in a trust that’s not administered by me.”
“I don’t make the investment decisions,” he added. “I have absolutely no visibility into the investments that the funds themselves are making.”
Bennet has consistently led O’Dea in polling throughout the year, and there have been few signs that the race is narrowing in its final weeks. Elections analysis website FiveThirtyEight estimates Bennet’s average polling lead at nearly 11% as of Oct. 25, and the race has attracted far less outside super PAC spending than Senate contests in states like Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona.
“We have to create an economy in this country again that when it grows, it grows for everybody, not just the people at the very top,” Bennet said. “That’s what I will do for you if I go back to Washington, D.C. I think Joe has kind of the opposite view of the work ahead.”