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Election 2020

A look at the major differences between Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper in the U.S. Senate race

The nationally watched Senate contest displays two different visions for Colorado on climate, coronavirus, healthcare and the economy

Sen. Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper at the U.S. Senate debate at the Denver7 studio in Denver, on Oct. 9, 2020. (Photos by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
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U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and former Gov. John Hickenlooper like to remind Coloradans of how great the state is. 

During their tenure in office, the state’s population grew and the economy boomed. But their visions for its future vary. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The Colorado Sun researched the candidates’ platforms and asked the presidential campaigns to respond to more than a dozen questions on key Colorado issues. In their responses, neither campaign addressed every issue covered below.

VOTER GUIDE: Explore where Senate candidates Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper stand on even more Colorado issues

The environment and fracking

Neither candidate has excited environmentalists, although Hickenlooper supports more aggressive climate action than Gardner. 

In the campaign, Gardner has sought to portray himself as an environmentally-friendly Republican, but he still supports an all-of-the-above strategy that includes coal and natural gas. 

Gardner fortified his environmental credentials with the Great American Outdoors Act, a multi-billion dollar investment in public lands that could also help address biodiversity and climate change. He also pushed for money for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But Gardner is a big supporter of the oil and gas industry and opposed a regulation that put tighter regulations on methane emissions. 

Gardner opposed a measure that would advance many of the proposals of the Green New Deal, saying that its stipulations would cost jobs.

Hickenlooper initially said he would support much of the Green New Deal, but later changed direction and said he supports the concept of the proposal but not the policy direction.

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He says he supports an energy strategy that boosts wind and solar production but doesn’t slash fossil fuel production. Scientists say the world needs to immediately cut fossil fuel emissions to stave off the worst effects of climate change. 

Hickenlooper has said he supports transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2050. He has long frustrated environmentalists with his support of fracking, and oil and gas production in the state expanded under his leadership. Now, he says he wants to make the practice “obsolete.”  

The economy and coronavirus relief

Hickenlooper and Gardner were in office for much of Colorado’s economic boom, and they don’t mind reminding voters of that fact. Colorado’s economic growth, however, was caused primarily by factors independent of either of them

Gardner voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump, which slashed taxes for millions of Americans, including Coloradans. While it’s difficult to determine the individual impacts of Trump tax cuts, the bill hasn’t had the broader effects on the economy that Republicans promised. 

Hickenlooper’s campaign said the former governor supports ending the tax cuts, but would do it while “protecting the middle class from any tax increases.”

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Both candidates support further action to pull the economy out of the coronavirus recession. Gardner backed Republican-led legislation for a “skinny” stimulus package. He also supports an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, more money to help school districts reopen, and $300 extra in unemployment insurance. 

Hickenlooper has called on congressional leaders to compromise to a larger aid package. He is backing a $3 trillion bill authored by Democrats in the U.S. House — known as the HEROES Act — that includes $600 in additional unemployment payments. He also supports giving most people an additional $2,000 check with future payments on a sliding scale. But at the same time, he said he’s open to a pared back compromise measure.

Health care and insurance coverage

Gardner opposes the Affordable Care Act and voted to repeal it while in the Senate. He also opposes a public option and universal Medicaid because, he said, they would lead to too much government intervention.

He has not outlined his own health care plan as a replacement for the ACA, but wants a plan that expands telemedicine and lowers prescription drug costs. A bill he introduced on preexisting conditions would not offer the same level of current protections and would still allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people.

Hickenlooper was less progressive on health care than many of his Democratic presidential primary opponents in his unsuccessful bid. 

He supports creating a public option, but one that is run by private insurance companies. He has said such a plan could be a step toward “Medicare for All.” As governor, he signed legislation to expand government-run Medicaid coverage to low-income Coloradans. He supports the Affordable Care Act. 

On a vaccine, Hickenlooper has suggested the military or National Guard should help with distribution. Gardner, in voting for the CARES Act, approved funds for vaccine development and said he would get one.


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