Gardner has tied to defend his votes by pointing to a 117-page bill he wrote that says it protects pre-existing conditions, but legal experts call a political stunt. He also slammed Hickenlooper for supporting “government-run health care” that he said would devastate Colorado’s rural hospitals.
The state’s urban-rural divide was a subtext to the debate. Gardner, a native of Yuma, noted he’s the only statewide elected official who is not from the Denver area. He slammed Hickenlooper for trying to end coal, noting that such policies kill jobs in places like Craig in the northwest. The Democratic candidate is a former petroleum geologist who wants to expand the renewable energy industry to speed the transition off fossil fuels.
“He wants to put you out of work,” Gardner warned energy workers of Hickenlooper.
The former governor, in contrast, repeatedly brought the conversation back to health care, which Democrats count on helping them recapture the Senate. He warned of the speedy confirmation of President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who Gardner supports. Hickenlooper said she might be the vote that repeals the Affordable Care Act.
Gardner said there was no way to predict Barrett’s vote and tried to present himself as a bipartisan problem-solver, touting his support of a massive conservation bill and role in creating a national suicide hotline. Throughout the campaign, Gardner has tried to maintain a delicate balance of not bucking Trump and alienating conservative voters, while touting a can-do pro-Colorado attitude.