Former Gov. John Hickenlooper and former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff met virtually for a second night of debates on Wednesday.
The meeting was carried by CBS4 in Denver with other media partners. The hourlong broadcast will be re-aired Friday night at 9 on Colorado Public Television.
If there was any question which of the Democrats running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Cory Gardner is the front-runner and which is the scrappy underdog, Tuesday night's televised debate delivered a clear answer.
They will meet for a 90-minute debate on Denver7 at 6 p.m. next Tuesday as the march to the June 30 primary continues. On Tuesday, the candidates debated in a virtual put on by 9News and carried by TV stations across the state.
Ballots are arriving in mailboxes across the state starting this week.
Romanoff on Wednesday night asked Hickenlooper to sign a pledge not to take contributions from the oil and gas industry.
"Andrew, you're mischaracterizing, as always," Hickenlooper said, saying his campaign has not accepted corporate political action committee money, including energy PACs.
Hickenlooper began his question about Romanoff about his record of controversies in the legislature by saying, "Andrew, you spend a lot of time criticizing my record ..."
He then asked his challenger to rank his regrets: his support for the invasion of Iraq, his support for bills Hickenlooper considered anti-immigrant in 2006 and his 2014 campaign for Congress "when you ran on an anti-balanced budget amendment."
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission decided on Friday that former Gov. John Hickenlooper violated the provisions of Amendment 41, the state's ethics law, in two of six cases where he accepted private flights in 2018 that went against the amendment's ban on gifts from corporations to elected officials.
Romanoff countered, "Your handlers in Washington are doing a good job of opposition research."
He said he made a mistake in 2006 to make a compromise with Republicans to keep a worse statute off the books.
Hickenlooper was more energetic and pointed in his replies than he was a night earlier.
"I am more fired up and excited about this campaign than any campaign in my past life," said the former two-term governor and two-term mayor of Denver.
Hickenlooper worked with the oil and gas industry on regulatory compromises as governor, which Romanoff has tried to exploit as the left has pushed the Green New Deal to fight climate change.
"I believe that climate change is the greatest existential crisis that faces the world, or has ever faced the world," the former energy company geologist said Wednesday night. "And I have for almost 40 years worked aggressively to address it."
He said the nation needs to get to a net-zero carbon situation by 2050 at the latest, efforts he supported as governor.
Romanoff said he supports transitioning those who work in fossil fuels for a role in the clean energy economy, and complimented the work of Hickenlooper's successor in the governor's office, Jared Polis.
"I don't want anyone treated as collateral damage," he said.
Romanoff said he would not accept money from the fossil fuel industry, pointing out that Hickenlooper has accepted that help.
"I'll owe this seat to the people who send me there; the folks who live in this state" he said of voters.
He pushed back on the suggestion he's too liberal for the state, including his support for Medicare for All.
"This is a time for bold leadership, not for timidity," he said. "I think going back to normal in this broken health insurance model would be a disaster."
For the second night in a row, the pair of Democrats talked about social justice and police reforms in the wake of protests across the nation and pushback on President Trump's "law and order" response.
Romanoff tried to bend the questions to Hickenlooper's time as mayor.
"It doesn't do us much good to pass civil rights laws if we don't actually enforce them," Romanoff said, who talked about his work on civil rights and racial injustice.
Hickenlooper said the killing of George Floyd was a catalyst for change, but it had to be one that takes in many factors, including education, health care and fair housing.
"Let's once and for all make sure education is a basic right," the former governor said.
He said he and his 17-year-old son, Teddy, took part in the marches.
"When I go to the Senate, I will be that agent of change," Hickenlooper promised.
Romanoff said, "It does us very little good to say black lives matter if every single day we act as if they don't."
He said it's long overdue to shift resources from police departments to community programs, as well as address judicial equality and measures to retrain police.
Hickenlooper talked about diversion programs for teenagers "to send less kids to jail, who are predominantly kids of color."
He spoke of his "Equity for All" effort to bring all the facets together, which he called "reimagining justice."
"Making sure we can use our resources as efficiently as possible, whether we're talking about any agency, but especially (with) the police, it should be our highest priority," Hickenlooper said.
The former governor sought to avoid direct conflict with his opponent again Wednesday night, while Romanoff sought to cast Hickenlooper as a political insider out of step with the party's progressive movement in Colorado, particularly when it comes to working with the oil and gas industry.
Though Romanoff has positioned himself as a moderate in the past, he has courted progressives with his support for the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and social justice.
Democrats are looking for their best chance to knock off incumbent Cory Gardner of Yuma, considered an endangered Republican as Democrats seek to take the Senate, hold the House and unseat Donald Trump from the White House in November.
The former governor remains the favorite — based on money, name recognition and national party support — but Romanoff has been on the offensive, while Hickenlooper is on defense trying to clear the last of 20 other opponents in the Democratic race.
In their debate a night earlier, Romanoff called for Hickenlooper to drop out over controversies and his previous statements about not wanting to be a U.S. senator, as Hickenlooper embarked on what became a failed run for president.
Republicans have piled on what is likely the roughest patch of bad news for Hickenlooper's 17-year political career.
Last week, the state Independent Ethics Commission found Hickenlooper violated the state's ban on gifts by accepting luxury travel while he was governor, a day after holding him in contempt for ignoring a subpoena to show up for the online hearing. He is the first governor to be held to account for the state's landmark ethics law, Amendment 41, adopted by voters in 2006.
Hickenlooper's campaign has sought to characterize the ethics complaint, brought by Republicans, as a "political stunt" and ever produced a campaign video to push back.
Romanoff sided against Hickenlooper, but not with Republicans.
"Their outrage is hard to stomach," he said in a statement the day Hickenlooper cited by the ethics bipartisan commission. "But it wasn’t the GOP that found Mr. Hickenlooper in contempt or in violation of the State Constitution."
Tuesday, the Washington Free Beacon reported inconsistencies between Hickenlooper's sworn testimony and how he characterized a meeting with former Bill Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan in New York while attending an event put on by former mayor and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.
He told The Denver Post in 2018, as speculation grew about a possible run for president, that his meeting with Jordan involved campaign talk. He told the ethics commission it was a personal meeting.
“He was very gracious and asked me about 2020, and I said, ‘Well, you know, my wife and I hadn’t made up our minds,’” Hickenlooper told The Denver Post.
During his three hours of testimony on Friday, when he showed up, Hickenlooper said he and Jordan "shared a good friend who wanted us to have lunch together."
Suzanne Staiert, the lawyer for the GOP group that filed the ethics complaint, asked Hickenlooper. "OK, so that was a personal lunch and not a political lunch?"
Hickenlooper replied, "Yes."
The former governor spoke to the matter again Wednesday night, saying as governor he promised to go "anywhere and everywhere" to promote Colorado.
"There was a dark money Republican group that made 97 allegations about that travel and the (ethics) commission got it down to two," he said, though the commission ruled on just six trips from which the allegations stem.
He said the events he attended were important for the state.
"I accept responsibility for this, but we should remember this is a dark money Republican attack group that was going to smear my reputation no matter what," Hickenlooper said. "They are going to smear any Democrat no matter what, because Cory Gardner can't run on his record."
He, like Romanoff, is a longtime Clinton family friend running for the nomination in a state trending left that has supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and this year.
Hickenlooper also has been associated in a negative light with police violence against unarmed black men from his time as Denver's mayor. Hickenlooper has said his administration made progress on the issue.
On Tuesday night, Romanoff called for Hickenlooper to drop out of the race, a notion Republican operatives quickly endorsed.
"Tonight it was made clear that John Hickenlooper is the worst candidate for Senate in the United States of America," said Colorado Republican Party spokesman Joe Jackson.
Colorado Politics will examine the state of play for both candidates in an in-depth analysis for this weekend's print magazine, which will be posted online this weekend.
This story was updated to correct how many cases the Independent Ethics Commission cases.