DENVER – Republican U.S. Senate candidates took aim at incumbent Democrat Mark Udall on one of his signature issues – criticism of the country’s secret eavesdropping program.
Udall has been one of the most outspoken senators in criticizing the National Security Agency’s collection of communications data from millions of Americans. However, Republicans at a debate Tuesday night said he didn’t go far enough after getting top-secret briefings about the program.
“I don’t think he did enough, sitting in the Senate Intelligence Committee listening to those reports,” said Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.
State Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said Udall’s explanation that he did everything but commit treason to warn about the program doesn’t convince her.
“You can do a host of things that reveal to the American people what is going on. None of that happened,” Stephens said.
Around 100 people turned out to watch the debate conducted by The Denver Post’s political reporters.
The leading candidates are Buck, Stephens and state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.
Buck was the Republican nominee in 2010. He narrowly lost to Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Hill is a freshman state senator who has the endorsement of the Tea Party Express.
Stephens was the House majority leader until 2013.
Other candidates included Mark Aspiri, Floyd Trujillo and Tom Janich. State Sen. Randy Baumgardner had a prior engagement and did not attend.
The group agreed on many of the big issues.
All six supported repealing the Affordable Care Act, opposed raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage and said they don’t believe human-made global warming is affecting the planet.
Buck, Hill and Stephens all said they supported the personhood amendment on the 2012 ballot, which would have declared that human life begins at conception – a legal change that would lead to bans on abortion and many forms of birth control.
Buck sought to ease concerns about repeating the 2010 campaign, when in a national television appearance on “Meet the Press,” he compared homosexuality to alcoholism.
“I am a better candidate this year than I was four years ago,” he said.
He pledged to stick to economic issues, not social issues, on the campaign trail, but he thinks the effect of his “Meet the Press” appearance was overblown.
Stephens disagreed, saying it hurt Republicans lower on the ticket and nearly cost the party its narrow victory in the state House.
“Who’s at the top of the ticket matters,” she said.
Stephens disagreed with Buck and Hill about the role of American military power.
“Many military people feel there is a place for us to be engaged, particularly when we see injustices in parts of the world that threaten our American interests,” she said.
Both Buck and Hill said the country needs to pull back its overseas engagements.
“We bought into an old Cold War mentality that our task is to be deployed all around the world,” Hill said.
Buck said the country is financially unable to be the world policeman.
“We have got to find ways to cut back the federal government, and the military has got to be one of those ways,” he said.
Moderators asked which current senator each candidate admired most.
Buck, Janich and Trujillo all picked Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a tea party Republican who rallied support for shutting down the government late last year.
“The Republican Party will be vindicated for shutting down the government over Obamacare,” Janich said.
Hill identified Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Paul’s father, Ron Paul, has endorsed Hill.
Stephens mentioned New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn.
Aspiri said his favorite senator is John McCain of Arizona.
“He has shown true leadership not only in how he addresses the issues, but in how he truly tries to reach out in a bipartisan fashion,” Aspiri said.