Election 2020 Senate Gardner Hickenlooper

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and his Democratic challenger, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper, the Democratic nominee for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat, said Tuesday he has accepted four invitations to debate the Republican incumbent, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, in October — but the candidates have only agreed to show up together at a single debate, on Oct. 2 in Pueblo.

That's because Gardner challenged his Democratic opponent to five debates almost two months ago, including four that Hickenlooper doesn't plan to attend, most notably the Sept. 19 debate at Western Slope advocacy organization Club 20's annual fall meeting.

“Our campaign is honored to accept invitations to these four debates that will allow us to reach Coloradans in communities across the state in both English and Spanish,” said Melissa Miller, Hickenlooper's communications director, in a statement.

“We look forward to the opportunity to show the clear contrast between John’s record of fixing tough problems by putting Colorado ahead of politics and Sen. Gardner’s failure to lead and speak out against his party, even during President Trump’s disastrous handling of the Coronavirus crisis.”

Hickenlooper, who took part in two presidential primary debates last summer before abandoning his White House bid, won't be participating in any additional debates other than the four announced Tuesday, a campaign spokesman told Colorado Politics.

A spokesman for the Gardner campaign tore into Hickenlooper for taking nearly 10 weeks to respond to the Republican's proposed debate schedule.

Said Gardner communications director Jerrod Dobkin: "Now that he has released a proposed schedule, it is no surprise his campaign team is trying to hide their candidate until October, since John Hickenlooper has never met a rake he won't step on. Our campaign is happy to begin debate negotiations, and the Hickenlooper campaign knows how to get ahold of us if they are actually interested in putting their candidate on a debate stage."

In a release, the Hickenlooper campaign said the former two-term governor has agreed to participate in debates sponsored by these media organizations:

• An Oct. 2 debate in Pueblo, sponsored by The Pueblo Chieftain

• An Oct. 6 debate in Denver, sponsored by The Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio and Denver7

• An Oct. 13 debate in Fort Collins, sponsored by 9News, Colorado Politics, the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Rocky Mountain PBS and local TV stations KRDO, KKCO, KJCT and KOBF

• A debate on a date in October to be announced, sponsored by Telemundo, a Spanish-language network with stations in Denver, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction and Durango

Weeks before state Democrats chose Hickenlooper over former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the June 30 U.S. Senate primary, Gardner challenged his eventual opponent to five debates, including the Chieftain's Oct. 2 debate in Pueblo and Club 20's Sept. 19 debate in Grand Junction.

Also on Gardner's list:

• A Sept. 1 debate in Colorado Springs sponsored by KOAA News5, Colorado Politics, The Gazette and El Pomar Foundation’s Forum for Civic Advancement

• A Sept. 29 debate in Denver, sponsored by KDVR, KXRM and KFQX, set to air in Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction

• An Oct. 14 debate in Denver, sponsored by KCNC, The Colorado Sun and PBS 12, which used to be called Colorado Public Television

It isn't the first time the leading Democratic candidate in the state has opted against showing up at Club 20's debate, which has traditionally marked the fall campaign's unofficial kick-off.

Last cycle, the venerable civic organization slammed Democrat Jared Polis for "snub[bing]" the group, calling it a "slap in the face to all of Western Colorado."

Polis squared off eight times with Republican nominee Walker Stapleton, including later in the season in Grand Junction at a debate sponsored by Colorado Mesa University and media organizations. He went on to win the November election by about 10 percentage points.

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