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Economy takes center stage at Colorado Senate debate

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Republican challenger Buck says voters want to know about jobs
  • Sen. Bennet calls for paying down the debt
  • The men are locked in a close race

(CNN) -- Candidates in the upcoming Colorado Senate election faced off Saturday in a televised debate, sparring on everything from abortion to the war in Afghanistan, but focusing on jobs and the economy.

Republican Ken Buck, a conservative backed by the Tea Party movement, is challenging Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

The contest is close and one of the most hotly-debated races in the nation. The two men exchanged arguments for an hour in a debate aired by KCNC, which is not a CNN affiliate.

"We are facing enormously difficult economic times," said Bennet -- making one of the few statements on which he and his opponent agreed.

To get the country back on track, the current senator urged paying down the national debt and making it easier for small businesses to get access to credit. He also pushed for policies that encourage the development of clean energy.

Buck, who believes the science is unproven in global warming, said the tax code should be simplified and the health care reform law repealed. He also said he would lower the corporate tax rate to help spur growth.

About midway through the debate, the discussion turned toward the television advertisements run by the candidates and their supporters during the campaign. Many have struck a negative tone, and voters have reported being turned off. Both men said they were surprised by the amount of money spent by groups outside the state on the campaign.

Bennet accused Buck of easing some of his more extreme positions since his primary victory over a mainstream Republican candidate. Buck charged that his opponent does one thing in Washington, and another in Colorado.

Buck, the Weld County district attorney, was once a long shot in the battle for the GOP nomination, but thanks in part to support from some in the Tea Party movement, he defeated former Lt. Gov Jane Norton, who was recruited to run by national Republicans and was the early favorite in the race.

Bennet survived a spirited Democratic primary challenge from former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. He was appointed early last year to replace Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar, who stepped down to serve as Interior Secretary in the Obama administration.

"We have a great opportunity in this election to choose between repeating our mistakes and creating a state and a country that our kids and our grand-kids would love to live in," Buck said.

The debate also touched on social issues in response to a viewer's question about abortion. Buck said he does not support abortion, including in cases of rape and incest. Bennet said he was pro-choice and cited his experience as a father of young girls.

Finally, the candidates debated the the issue of Afghanistan. The current senator said the United States should start to remove troops by the middle of next year, while Buck said setting a fixed timetable would be a mistake.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released recently indicates Buck has a 48 to 45 percent advantage over Bennet, with 5 percent undecided. Buck's three-point margin is within the survey's sampling error. Most other recent polls indicated a slightly larger, single-digit advantage for the GOP nominee.

According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll, among the larger sampling of all registered voters, Bennet holds a six-point advantage.

The poll was conducted October 15-17, with 600 registered voters in Colorado, including 402 likely voters, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for registered voters, and plus or minus 4.9 percentage points for likely voters.