From left: Former Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. (Colorado Sun file photos)

By Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and his Democratic challenger, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, faced off in a Spanish-language debate on Tuesday, tussling over immigration, health care and the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The debate was taped in English on Sunday and aired with Spanish translations on Tuesday, so neither candidate could address recent events like President Donald Trump ending negotiations over additional coronavirus relief. Instead, the two candidates both trod familiar ground, with Gardner both attacking Hickenlooper and trying to sell himself as a bipartisan problem-solver, and Hickenlooper trying to tie the incumbent to Washington and Trump.

“Nothing’s going to change if we aren’t able to send new people to Washington,” Hickenlooper, 68, said.

Gardner rattled off a list of bills, from a national suicide prevention hotline to a sprawling measure to fund national park maintenance. “In these last years, I’ve shown the attitude of voting 100% for Colorado,” said Gardner, 46.

Gardner is considered one of the most endangered Republican senators in the country, partly because Colorado has shifted toward Democrats since he was elected to his first Senate term in 2014.

The two men’s most notable clash was on immigration. Gardner was a member of the Republican House majority that in 2013 refused to consider a bipartisan Senate immigration bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for 11 million people in the country illegally, including those brought illegally as children who qualified for the Obama administration program known as DACA.

MORE: The next four weeks will determine if Cory Gardner keeps his job. Here’s how he plans to shift the tide.

Since Trump’s election, though, Gardner has co-written a bill with Colorado’s Democratic senator. Michael Bennet, to legalize DACA recipients. At the debate, he attacked Hickenlooper for a statement the Democrat made as governor suggesting that Democrats should give up on pushing for a pathway for citizenship in the face of Republican resistance and focus on narrower protections from deportation.

“It’s an attack and a distortion,” Hickenlooper said.

“It’s not an attack, it’s your own words,” Gardner replied, also noting that Hickenlooper, as mayor of Denver, had touted referring 8,000 immigrants to the federal government during a debate with former Rep. Tom Tancredo, a notorious immigration hardliner against whom he was running for governor.

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Gardner said he wanted to protect immigrants because “they’re my neighbors, they go to school with my children.”

The two men also argued about energy, with Gardner renewing accusations that Hickenlooper, a former petroleum geologist, would end 230,000 jobs in the fossil fuel industry because of fears of climate change. Hickenlooper called climate change “an existential threat” and argued an investment in green energy would create a record number of new jobs.

And Hickenlooper kept returning to health care, Democrats’ favorite subject. He slammed Trump for mishandling the coronavirus outbreak and argued Gardner wanted to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The two men will meet for their next debate Friday evening.

The Associated Press