Colorado’s major party U.S. Senate candidates held their only televised debate of the election on Tuesday night – but it was disrupted by minor party supporters. About two dozen Green Party supporters stood outside the History Colorado Museum in Denver where the debate was held, pounding on the glass doors for 60 minutes. The noise was clearly a distraction for the audience and for incumbent Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and El Paso County Commissioner Daryl Glenn, his Republican challenger.
“Some folks are exercising free speech outside by using the building as a base drum,” said 9News moderator Kyle Clark.
To be invited to participate a candidate needed 10 percent support in two independent polls. None of the third-party candidates reached that threshold.
Clark asked Glenn why in recent days he has gone from supporting presidential nominee Donald Trump to urging him to drop out of the race to then suggesting that he would back Trump again. The context was video showing Trump making lewd comments about women 11 years ago.
“We should never disrespect women, I grew up in a family with domestic violence,” said Glenn.
He said his support for Trump has waffled but that he also believes in repentance and seeing what’s inside someone’s heart. He said Trump is a member of the Republican family.
“What I’m trying to show him is grace.”
Glenn clarified on Tuesday, that he’s not saying whether he is supporting Trump until after he meets Trump in person.
“I have absolutely suspended my endorsement of Donald Trump."
Glenn added that Bennet is hypocritical for not criticizing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s mistakes, such as using a private e-mail server and calling some of Trump’s supporters’ "deplorables."
“I didn’t have to because she said she was wrong,” said Bennet. “She apologized immediately and it was a sincere, heartfelt apology.”
During the hour-long debate Bennet defended some of his actions in office, including his support of the Iran nuclear deal. He said he believes it was the right vote, but tough politically.
“I was voting yes on a deal that I think has made the United States more secure, that has made our allies, Israel more secure," he said. "We tried to face down the Iranian conventional threat in the region which is extremely dangerous.”
Bennet still stands behind the Affordable Care Act - despite rising health care costs and premiums for many Colorado families. He advocated for more transparency and competition.
“I believed back when we passed this the first time that we should have a public option for our people to be able choose from if they want that, and I still believe that,” Bennet said.
It’s a stark difference from Glenn who said he wants to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a competitive marketplace across state lines and encourage market growth. On one issue, Glenn moved closer to Bennet. He reversed his stance on banning all Muslims from entering the United States. Glenn now believes a religious test is too broad to bar entry.
“I do not support blanket bans.”
The two candidates also agree that each of them is best suited to bringing unity back to Washington D.C., in the wake of the divisive presidential election. It was something they touched on in their closing statements – starting with Bennet.
“What I want is a politics that’s worthy of the aspirations we have for our kids and our grandkids,” said Bennet. “That’s an example I’ve tried to set in the first term that I’ve been your senator. That’s what I will continue to do if you give me that privilege."
Glenn’s was similar.
“Service is my life. I’m a man of faith, and I learned the fact when I was out there talking to you that trust has been broken," he said. "I want you to understand that I’m asking you for your vote because you can trust me, because I’m going to actually sit down and talk to you and go represent you.”
For a purple swing state that was expected to have a close Senate race nationally, Colorado has been fairly quiet. Bennet has a sizeable lead in polls while Glenn doesn’t have strong statewide name recognition. Glenn has raised a fraction of the amount of money compared to Bennet.