DENVER – They stepped into the ring, eying one another. The crowd was sparse on Thursday, maybe 70 people, but the air was electric and emotions ran high.
Beauprez supporters sat on the right, Ritterites on the left. A bitter tension cut the room in half.
The bell rang and the gloves came off. Republican Bob Beauprez flew at Democrat Bill Ritter with a flying sidekick and Ritter countered with a vicious “Three Stooges” poke to Beauprez’s eyes.
OK, maybe it didn’t happen quite like that, but it was clear that the two candidates for Colorado governor would not be sitting down for beers together anytime soon after squaring off in a debate, co-sponsored by CSU.
A key issue of the debate, held at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, was funding for higher education.
“We do have a problem; our universities are left hanging year after year wondering if there is going to be any money that trickles over that they can fight for,” Beauprez said.
“I have visited with Dr. Penley and other university leaders; all of them have told me that we need a sustainable, predictable, funding source, not a fix, not a Band-Aid, and all of them have said don’t allow our expenses to continue to go up and tie our hands about what we can do.”
“We have to use Referendum C as a starting point,” he said. “If you care about higher education then at least take the Band-Aid remedy, maybe it doesn’t fix everything but take the Band-Aid remedy … Everybody I talk to agrees that Referendum C was vital.”
Associated Students of CSU President Jason Green, who was in attendance at the debate, said that funding for higher education will be a cornerstone in this year’s election.
“Both candidates have good ideas, Beauprez is for more flexibility and Ritter is a huge advocate for Referendum C,” he said. “Either way there is definitely hope in this state for higher education.”
A recent poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling Research, had Ritter leading in every region of the state with 50 percent support overall, while Beauprez had 35 percent, with a plus or minus margin of error of four percentage points.
“Things look very good for Ritter, but the election is still a month away, and this isn’t a state where Democrats tend to win by big margins statewide,” said Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver.
John Marshall, a campaign spokesman for Beauprez, said the Mason-Dixon poll results were wrong.
“This race is going to tighten up,” said Ritter campaign manager Greg Kolomitz. “It’s going to be close.”
According to panelist and CSU political science professor John Straayer, the race will be a close one.
“People tend to go back to their party come election day; Colorado is typically a Republican state.” Straayer said shortly after the debate.
“But I think the odds are that this won’t get the job done for Beauprez. The results will be closer than the polls show right now, it will be a tight race, there will not be a 10-plus point differential on November 7th.”
When asked, if he were a betting man, who he would place money on to take the election, Green’s lips were sealed.
“I don’t feel, due to my position with the university, I can answer that.” Green said with a smile.
Straayer was a little bolder when asked the same question.
“Ritter,” said Straayer. “Based off what the polls say. I think things are pointing in Ritter’s direction.”
Staff reporter Kevin Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org