Bennet, O’Dea face off in final debate on views of U.S. Senate race

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Joe O’Dea, the Republican hoping to take his seat this November, spent their final debate of the election needling each other over guns, records, and more.

The debate, hosted by 9NEWS and held at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, was the last scheduled meeting of the two candidates before ballots are counted Nov. 8.

The meeting happened as O’Dea returned from a late-campaign visit to the U.S.-Mexico border and has dueled with former President Donald Trump over the latter’s hinted-at 2024 election bid. O’Dea has said he’d actively campaign against Trump in the Colorado Republican primary — but would still vote for him in a general election because another four years of President Joe Biden is “terrifying.”

Bennet has been traveling the state with a cast of fellow Democrats, celebrating Democratic accomplishments on the Inflation Reduction Act and its environmental funding and caps on health care costs and the declaration of Camp Hale as a national monument. He was recently joined by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who warned supporters of threats to democracy as highlighted by the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Bennet entered the final stretch of the campaign with a decisive cash advantage, as he had throughout the race — nearly $3 million to O’Dea’s about $500,000. Those filings cover the period ending Oct. 19.

“You’re a liar, Joe.” Bennet disputes O’Dea’s criticism that he’s “ineffective”

O’Dea has been attacking Bennet over a perceived lack of results because he hasn’t passed many standalone bills with his name at the top of them. Bennet rebuts that, saying that his bills end up wrapped into larger packages that often pass with bipartisan support.

He cited recently allocated money for rural broadband, watershed and forest protections, and the planned reconstruction of Interstate 70 at Floyd Hill. Standalone bills often end up as part of bigger bills in the chamber.

The allegation rankled Bennet enough that he made it the topic of one of the two questions moderators allowed him to ask his opponent.

“It goes to your effectiveness. You’re ineffective,” O’Dea said.

“You’re a liar, Joe,” Bennet said.

The question of Bennet’s effectiveness in Washington, D.C., where he’s served since 2009, is an expected thread for a challenger to pull. In another example, Bennet brought up the comprehensive immigration reform bill he championed in 2013, known as the Gang of Eight bill. That bipartisan bill passed the Senate but withered when Republican leadership in the House of Representatives declined to bring it up.

Bennet touted it again at Friday night’s debate and cited his continuing work on immigration as a reason he wants to “desperately go back.”

O’Dea called it “a lot of talking.”

“You’ve been doing talking for 13 years, and you haven’t gotten it done,” O’Dea said. “Michael Bennet doesn’t deliver results.”

“I will not be lectured by Democrats.” Candidates divide on gun laws

In a series of yes or no questions on gun laws, the two candidates showed agreement and contrast. A federal law requiring universal background checks for all firearm sales? Both said yes. A 10-day waiting period for all gun purchases? Both said no.

An increase in the age requirement to purchase so-called assault weapons? Bennet said yes. O’Dea said “I would not. No more laws.”

A ban on the sale of so-called assault weapons? O’Dea said no. Bennet said “I think we’ve made enough of these weapons of war in this country.”

“I will not be lectured by Democrats that continue to say we need to change this gun law, change that gun law, when they fail to enforce the laws we already have on the books,” O’Dea said.

Instead of more laws regulating firearms, O’Dea, who is the son of a police officer, argued for more law enforcement, including in schools. Law enforcement in schools has been contentious in some school districts. Opponents argue more police in schools leads to unnecessary legal escalations that disproportionately affect students of color and people with disabilities, though O’Dea said they’re “a great influence on our kids.”

O’Dea ended his argument by saying public safety law enforcement and not tax law enforcement, through expanded IRS hiring, should be prioritized. O’Dea argued funding for the IRS just leads to more tax collections, including of working people. Bennet spent much of his rebuttal on the IRS, arguing the funding merely modernizes the agency and empowers it to go after the richest Americans who don’t pay the taxes they owe.

But on guns, he closed noting O’Dea also doesn’t support Colorado’s red flag law or the federal recently passed federal bipartisan gun bill that included grant money to expand that program and mental health services. Red flag laws generally empower local officials to confiscate firearms from people deemed to be immediate threats to themselves or others.

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