In Colorado Senate debate, rivals accuse each other of flip-flopping on immigration

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, right, during a debate with U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner in Denver, on Oct. 6, 2014.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, right, during a debate with U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner in Denver, on Oct. 6, 2014.  (ap)

In the second debate in one of the nation’s most watched and high-stakes midterm races this year, Colorado rivals for the U.S. Senate accused each other on Monday night of being disingenuous in their immigration reform stances.

Democrat incumbent Sen. Mark Udall balked at remarks in support of a path to legalization by his GOP challenger, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, accusing him of flip-flopping from previous hard-line positions on the issue.

In the debate, which lasted 45 minutes and was sponsored by Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Gardner said expressed support for the DREAM Act, a measure that would give conditional permanent residency for people brought to this country illegally as children.

“I believe an earned status is going to be ultimately part of the solution,” said Gardner, according to Politico.

Udall said that Gardner had done nothing to move forward immigration reform in the House, where the effort stalled after the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan bill in 2013. Many conservative Republicans, who have a majority in the House, vowed not to approve an immigration reform measure that gave a break to undocumented immigrants.

Gardner said Udall once had supported a measure making it a felony to help undocumented immigrants and for urging Congress in 2010 to deal with a cap-and-trade bill before working on immigration, Politico said.

“Congressman Gardner can talk about 10 years ago, but let’s talk about today,” said Udall, according to Politico. “He’s for de facto amnesty. … Congressman Gardner says he believes in immigration reform, but he hasn’t moved a finger to get it passed in the House of Representatives.”

Polls suggest a close election. A September poll by the Denver Post, for instance, showed Udall leading Gardner 46-42 percent.

Udall said he is in favor of President Barack Obama taking executive action to spare perhaps millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Gardner questioned whether the president has the power to act unilaterally, and said that Obama had himself previously said he could not do so.

As he has done in his campaign, Gardner sought to link Udall with Obama, saying that a vote for Udall is essentially a vote for Obama’s policies.

“The president just said it: His policies are on the ballot,” said Gardner, Politico reported, “and Mark Udall has voted with him 99 percent of the time.”

Udall said that Gardner is an extreme conservative.

“His record is out of the mainstream,” said Udall. “It’s in the extreme.”

The candidates were not asked about marriage equality, even though the debate came hours after Colorado got word that same-sex marriage will proceed despite a ban in the state constitution.

Udall defended his support for a carbon tax, lashing back at criticism from his opponent who says plans to slash carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants raises energy costs for homeowners.

Udall took a more aggressive stance than he has in the past, saying the changes by the Environmental Protection Agency are an opportunity for green energy companies.

"We are ready for the EPA regulations. Carbon pollution is real," Udall said. "Climate science ... is showing us that we have to act."

Udall made pointed jabs at Gardner on climate change, saying that Gardner "doesn't think climate change is occurring."

Gardner said he believed man-made pollution contributes to climate change. But he opposed a carbon tax.

"What I am not willing to do is to destroy the economy for policies to address that," Gardner said.

Gardner asked Udall to say what price should be put on carbon.

"We've shown that we can put a price on pollution," Udall answered without giving a price.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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