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Sen. Udall Questioned Over TV Debate Strategy

DENVER (CBS4) - For the first time in CBS4 history an incumbent U.S. senator has declined to debate his opponent live on air. In fact, Sen. Mark Udall isn't doing a debate on any of the four major network television stations in Denver.

CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd said it's disappointing to CBS4, but it's also unfortunate for CBS4 viewers.

"Live debates are the one opportunity voters have to see candidates go toe-to-toe without a media filter, see the clarity of their vision and courage of their conviction; how they think on their feet and respond under pressure," Boyd said. "We've been trying to schedule this debate for more than two months."

The debate was to last an hour and be aired live at 6 p.m. from CBS4 studios.

"Unlike attack ads that cost millions of dollars to air, it was free air time. But incumbent Sen. Mark Udall said, 'No thanks,' " Boyd said.

CBS4 has a long history of hosting political debates dating back to its days as KOA. For more than 30 years the station has invited candidates for U.S. Senate to debate on CBS4's air, and never has a candidate passed on the opportunity -- until now.

Udall says he's all booked.

"Is there not any date between now and Nov. 4 that would work?" Boyd asked Udall.

"Shaun, we're going to have a series of debates and forums all over the state," Udall responded.

With a month before ballots go out, Udall's "series" includes four debates, with two in Denver. It's a matter that's concerning to even some Democrats.

"I think it will cause many a voter to ask, 'Why? Why didn't you go on TV and do the live debate?' " Democratic analyst Penfield Tate said.

Tate said Udall could be hurt by not doing a TV debate.

"Sometimes you have the colossal blunder, and sometimes you have the death of a thousand cuts. This could be one of those cuts, that combined with others, could be harmful, absolutely."

Adding to the oddity, Udall's campaign sent a letter to his opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, in June challenging him to "a series of open and honest debates." The letter says "Colorado has a great tradition of holding spirited public debates," and that "U.S. Senate candidates standing on a stage together is a proud Colorado custom."

Gardner has committed to 16 debates since then, including CBS4's offer.

Udall has had trouble fitting in four, booking one of the debates just this week.

"(It) just produces all this speculation – 'Why? Why didn't you do it?' " Political Science Professor Norm Profizer said.

Profizer said if Udall was hoping to avoid exposure, he just invited it.

"What you bring from that is this notion (that) whatever issues you might think that maybe a price you might pay for having a debate … you might pay a bit of a price; but I think the reality is the price you pay for not doing it, for not participating, is much greater," he said.

Profizer said that's especially true because Udall is in a race that could go either way. It's one of the most closely-watched races in the country and could decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

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