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Highlights from Colorado Congressional District 4 debate: Lauren Boebert and other GOP candidates spar on issues

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Watch the entire Congressional District 4 Debate hosted by CBS Colorado 01:20:05

Six candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Colorado's 4th Congressional District, a seat vacated earlier this year by former Rep. Ken Buck, took part in a debate Wednesday in Denver. Among them was Rep. Lauren Boebert, who announced in December that she would be changing districts.

The candidates mostly saw eye-to-eye on former President Donald Trump, immigration, climate change and federal spending, but broke from one another on foreign policy, with Boebert the only candidate to oppose providing U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

"Ukraine is not a NATO ally and we have already sent them over- nearly $200 billion of your tax dollars. There have been no audits, we do not know where this money is going for, it's completely unaccountable and we continue to send more money there," she said.

All six Republican candidates who will appear on the ballot discussed a number of issues in the debate, which was hosted by CBS News Colorado and moderated by CBS News Colorado Political Specialist Shaun Boyd on Wednesday.

In addition to Boebert, the other candidates included Deborah Flora, state Rep. Richard Holtorf, state Rep. Michael Lynch, former state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and Peter Yu.


Not every candidate was asked every question, and some questions called for a simple yes or no response or a show of hands.

"I deliver for Colorado," Boebert claimed during her opening statement, in which she highlighted her experience in Congress. She later boasted about her endorsement from Trump.

Holtorf, a cattle rancher and state representative whose district includes Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, Weld and Yuma Counties, described himself as a "no-nonsense conservative" and a fighter, citing his military and combat experience.

Lynch, a state representative whose district includes Larimer and Weld Counties, said he wants to turn his frustration with Congress into action if he were to be elected, honing in on the issues of immigration and fentanyl.

Flora, a parent, filmmaker and radio host, attacked Boebert in her opening statement, saying, "We've seen how Lauren Boebert would represent us, abandoning her neighbors in CD3, missing key votes while chasing cameras and being in the center of D.C. drama instead of delivering real solutions for the people." 

She said she would focus on issues such as immigration and the economy.

Sonnenberg, a state senator whose district includes Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, Weld and Yuma Counties, highlighted his deep roots in Colorado and experience in the state legislature. He boasted about his leadership skills and experience stopping "the liberal agenda."

Yu has worked as an executive at Wyndham Worldwide and HSBC Bank and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in several recent elections. He said he has spent several hours per day knocking on voters' doors and described one meeting he had with a politically divided couple who told him they had both changed their party affiliation due to having "zero trust in Congress." 

Yu claimed he would work to restore that trust if elected.

Foreign policy split

When asked who among the candidates would support deploying troops to defend Taiwan if China were to invade the small island nation, every candidate except Boebert raised their hand. Holtorf's hand shot up first as he exclaimed, "Right here, let's go. It's our ally, we gotta stand behind our allies, 100%."

When asked who supports aid for Ukraine, again, every candidate except Boebert raised their hand, with Flora clarifying, "If it's accountable."

However, when the question turned to aid for Israel, support among the candidates was unanimous. 

"Israel is our number one ally and we have made commitments to them," Boebert said. 

Boebert added that she supports helping Israel resupply munitions for the Iron Dome, its air defense system, but won't support bills that tie aid to Israel with humanitarian aid to Gaza, which she characterized as "$9 billion to Hamas."

Candidates in Colorado's CD4 GOP primary debate respond to foreign policy questions 05:40

Flora criticized Boebert's two votes against aid to Israel.

"There was money in there for humanitarian aid, but everyone I spoke to, from IDF (Israel Defense Forces) captains to AIPAC have said 'we cannot have the good be the opponent of the perfect or the perfect of the good,'" Flora said.

Per the rules of the debate, Boebert was afforded a 30-second rebuttal, where she said she didn't support deficit spending to send aid to Israel or an aid package that included humanitarian aid, which she again characterized as sending money to Hamas.

"I know how horrible that war is and I'm not going to fund both sides," Boebert shot back. "I stand with Israel and I also stand with America."

When asked, Holtorf said he'd support conditioning any aid the U.S. gives to allies with a requirement that it be paid back over time. He then called for unity among the candidates, saying they should be focusing their criticism on Democrats.

"The catfight needs to stop and we need to start talking about policy issues," he said.

Broad agreement on the issues

On several issues, there appeared to be little disagreement among the candidates, including on immigration, the causes of climate change and confidence that Trump would win re-election in 2024.

While most candidates said federal spending needs to be slashed, Flora said highways and other roads are an area the federal government should be financially supporting. She also said undocumented immigrants are "overwhelming" infrastructure, including rural hospitals.

"Buses are being dropped off, overwhelming the hospitals that are really there to serve the good people in the rural communities," she said. "It's time that we begin to put our U.S. citizens, those that are in the rural communities, first."

Holtorf said he supports a proposal by Trump to designate drug cartels as terrorist organizations, and use the U.S. military to assist domestic law enforcement at the southern border.

Lynch said that when he was in the U.S. Army, service members assisted with border security.

"That is an effective policy that I think we should continue to do," Lynch said. 

Boebert called for mass deportations, reciting one of her campaign slogans: "Build the wall, deport them all." 

She went on to claim that undocumented immigrants were overwhelming systems and services in the U.S.

Asked if he'd support a merit-based visa policy to remove a cap on work visas, Sonnenberg said he'd need to research the issue more, but said the U.S. needs to make it easier for immigrants to enter the workforce.

"As we develop that workforce, we need to look at immigrant labor that come here legally," he said.

Yu also said he supports streamlining the process to legally enter and work in the U.S. He said he spoke to a Northern Colorado business owner who griped about spending thousands of dollars on visa applications for prospective workers.

"No one's willing to work," Yu said. "As a result, he now has to push those costs onto the people of the district, as well as his clients."

Key moments from debate featuring Colorado Congressional District 4 candidates 03:59

All the candidates minimized the significance of climate change and how human activity contributes to it. 

"Climate change occurs four times a year," Boebert said in reference to the seasons.

Holtorf indicated that while he believes that human activity contributes to climate change, "there's a larger contribution through environmental factors that we do not control."

Lynch, Flora, Sonnenberg and Yu also alleged in their responses that people play little to no role in climate change.


CD4 includes a large portion of eastern Colorado. The district also includes Douglas County in the southern part of the Denver metro area, and the city of Loveland in Northern Colorado.

So far, Boebert has raised $3.4 million in the race, nearly ten times as much as Flora, who has raised just over $356,000, the second highest fundraiser among the Republican candidates, according according to the latest data from the Federal Elections Commission.

Boebert currently represents Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, which covers most of western and some of southern Colorado, but she announced late last year that she was changing districts.

"(Boebert) had to move from a pretty good Republican district to an overwhelmingly Republican district in order to think she could win re-election," CBS Colorado Republican political analyst Dick Wadhams said earlier this month.

Colorado's primary election will take place June 25. Ballots in the primary election will be sent out to voters in the mail next week.

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