As the start of the first presidential debate approached Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, one of the dozens of Democrats who ran in the primary for the chance to challenge President Donald Trump, suggested that viewers keep one thing in mind.
"Remember that everything @RealDonaldTrump is about to do is intended to distract from his failures," Bennet tweeted. "He’s failed to protect us from the virus, to support families and small businesses who have been hit the hardest, and to unite our country. Stay focused. It matters."
Across the political divide, Keith Schipper, a spokesman for Colorado's Trump Victory campaign, offered a contrary preview of the pivotal meeting that was about to take place in Cleveland.
"While President Trump continues to put America First and deliver on his promises to the American people, it is finally time for Joe Biden to defend his radical policies and years of failure. During tonight's debate, the choice could not be clearer that President Trump is the only one on stage fit to lead this country for the next four years," Schipper said in an email.
Tensions ran high among Colorado observers as Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off for 90 high-stakes minutes five weeks before an election held amid a historic pandemic, civil unrest and an economy on the ropes.
There was little middle ground in local reactions to the often unruly clash, as the candidates appeared to spend most of the time talking over each other and Trump quarreled with moderator Chris Wallace.
U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, the freshman Democrat from Aurora who was one of the prosecutors who argued the impeachment case against Trump at the beginning of the year, posed a question to more than 1,000 Colorado Biden supporters on a pre-debate teleconference:
"Decades from now we're going to look back and people are going to say, 'What did you do — what did you do when your country needed you?' " asked Crow, a decorated combat veteran. " 'What did you do when your family and your kids needed you most, when the world needed us to step up and lead?' "
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican and co-chair of Trump's Colorado campaign, gave the president both thumbs up.
"Tonight, the stark differences between President Trump and former Vice President Biden were clear," Lamborn said in a statement.
"Because of our President's steadfast leadership and swift actions, we are on a steady path to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I am confident that with President Trump at the helm, our nation will make a full recovery. Under his continued leadership, we will soon be crushing our previous record-breaking job numbers, continuing on the path of freedom, and increasing prosperity for every American."
State Rep. Bri Buentello, the up-and-comer Democrat from Pueblo, emceed the Biden campaign's pre-debate event, which also featured U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, former Denver Bronco Brandon Lloyd and actor Sean Astin.
"Joe Biden understands rural Colorado," said Buentello, the mother of a son with autism. "He understands the issues our families face. Joe Biden understands health care needs to work for everyone."
Once the debate got underway, Republican congressional candidate Lauren Boebert lobbed a stream of barbed observations about Biden's performance on Twitter.
"We’re not even five minutes into this debate & Joe Biden is already falling apart," Boebert, a Rifle restaurant owner and first-time candidate tweeted.
"Joe Biden needs the 'phone a friend' lifeline so he can check with Kamala as to what his platform is," Boebert added minutes later, referring to Biden's running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
During a combative discussion about violence surrounding protests over racial injustice, the Colorado Democratic Party issued a scathing assessment of Trump's argument.
"Let's be very clear," the state Democrats tweeted. "Every time @realDonaldTrump brings up the 'suburbs' and warns about 'low-income housing,' that's a racist dog whistle. Full stop."
In a "reality check" responding to the same exchange, Schipper maintained that Biden "downplayed the violence" as "left-wing rioters and looters wreaked havoc across Democrat controlled cities."
Added Schipper: "President Trump is the law and order candidate while Biden has embraced lawlessness."
Morgan Carroll, chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, tore into Trump in a statement after the debate ended.
"Donald Trump knows he can’t defend his record of 200,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 and a broken economy of his own making. What’s worse is that, when given the simplest question to denounce white supremacists, Trump took a pass," Carroll said.
"Colorado voters, and voters across this country, are tired of the lies and constant assault on our health care and freedoms by Donald Trump. VP Biden showed that he is the calm leader with a plan who will work to unite us."
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the Windsor Republican who chairs the state GOP, released a glowing review of Trump's performance minutes after the candidates left the stage.
"Tonight, President Trump made it clear that he is the leader our country needs to continue leading the Great American Comeback, uphold the rule of law, and finally defeat COVID-19," Buck said. "Meanwhile, a Biden-Harris Administration would only destroy Colorado's energy industry and raise taxes on the middle class."
Near the end of the debate, Trump revived unfounded claims that mail balloting is rife with fraud, provoking a response from Jena Griswold, Colorado's Democratic secretary of state and frequent Trump critic.
"Why is #VoteByMail a good option for you @realDonaldTrump and your family ... but not the rest of the American people?" Griswold tweeted, adding, "Americans have used mail ballots since the Revolutionary War."
In a tweet, Bennet delivered his response to Trump's tirade about mail ballots.
"Colorado has voted by mail for years," Bennet tweeted. "The president isn’t really worried about fraud. He’s worried that the American people will vote."
Colorado Politics reporter Joey Bunch contributed to this report.