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Ed Perlmutter, Joe Coors launch attacks during season's biggest Congressional debate

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Candidates for Congress fielded questions for hours this morning at a forum in Thorton where six politicians debated the economy and job creation, taxes, energy policy and unsurprisingly, health care -- launching a jam-packed week of political events in Colorado.

The sometimes heated discussion offered a glimpse of the rhetoric and arguments we can expect to hear throughout the week, which includes rallies with Mitt Romney, Ann Romney, Barack Obama -- and the first presidential debate.

The forum -- moderated by Shaun Boyd of CBS4 and co-sponsored by the Metro North Chamber of Commerce and the Denver Regional Council of Government -- featured candidates for the second, fourth and seventh districts of Colorado. Mike Coffman of the sixth district was also in the audience -- but he didn't speak because Joe Miklosi, his Democratic challenger, was absent.

The topics were wide-ranging but often boiled down to philosophical disagreements on the role of government in fixing the economy -- mirroring the debates happening on a national scale between the Obama and Romney camps.

For incumbent Representative Ed Perlmutter and Joe Coors, his Republican opponent, the answers and speeches quickly turned to direct back-and-forth attacks.

"We need to...eliminate tax breaks that encourage outsourcing of jobs. That is something that I think would enhance our revenue to the nation as well as encourage us to build things in America," Perlmutter said in answering the first question. "My opponent and I have very different feelings about that, because his company has outsourced jobs and I don't think that's right for this country."

Perlmutter was referring to his opponent's record with a ceramics company called CoorsTek, which allegedly outsourced jobs to Asia. The Coors campaign has repeatedly argued that this is a false characterization and that the company -- which sells more U.S.-manufactured goods to other countries than they import -- has never sacrificed local jobs in its business overseas.

Perlmutter's comment set the tone for the debate -- with Coors, in his first official response of the event, refuting the attack.

"It just kind of irritates me when I'm accused of outsourcing," he said. "He's talking about global presence.... CoorsTek has a global presence. We did not outsource any American jobs. I don't know where that comes from.... All the things we do internationally, globally are additive to the base business we have here in Golden, Colorado."

Joining Coors and Perlmutter were Republican Congressman Cory Gardner and his challenger, Brandon Shaffer, who is the president of the Colorado State Senate -- alongside Representative Jared Polis, a Democrat, and his challenger, State Senator Kevin Lundberg.

Lundberg, answering the first question, called for fewer government restrictions. "Who should be in charge? Should it be the government or should it be the businesses?... Far too often...the attitude in Washington is, 'It's up to us to manipulate and to manage and somehow be the driving force.' I believe we need to put things back into proper perspective, which is, businesses are in the business of competing. Government needs to be at the minimum level so as to not get in the way."

The Republicans in the forum repeatedly brought up a call for smaller government and less burdens on small business, while the Democrats reiterated the importance of government support and the dangers of a Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan economic plan for the middle class.

Continue for more from the debate. In a discussion on transportation, Shaffer criticized Congress for being ineffective.

"Ultimately, there is a common theme here that will play throughout a lot of the conversation that we have here," he said, "And that is that Congress isn't getting the job done. They're just not able to collaborate, they're not able to work together, they're not able to pass legislation.... And that is a major problem with our economy."

Perlmutter, however, frequently emphasized his ability to work with Republicans, noting twice that the Denver Post called him the most bipartisan member of the state's Congressional delegation.

"We can do things in this country when we work together," he said in his closing remarks.

In his concluding comments, Coors jumped on Perlmutter's repeated reference to the Post's praise. "I just can't help this. If he's so bipartisan...how come the Denver Post two years ago didn't endorse him? They did not endorse him, because he was too partisan."

Some of the most heated debates between the candidates focused on the topics of energy, health care and Medicare.

Perlmutter frequently praised the National Renewable Energy Lab and took a jab at Coors for being unsupportive of alternative energy sources. "I support...wind, solar, biomass. My opponent...called wind and solar not ready and he talked about wind mills making too much of a racket. So I support renewable energy."

Coors shot back that he supports the wind energy tax credit, also saying, "I'm an all-the-above energy person. I drive a [Chevy] Volt, an electric car, 98 miles a gallon."

After Coors's comments, Lundberg also noted that he, too, has personal commitments to renewable energy. "I'm a fan of renewables... Actually for the last fourteen years, I've lived in a house that I designed and built that's run on solar and wind. I understand how it works. I also understand how it doesn't work. It will not be the prime baseload for our nation for several decades to come. We need to recognize that fact."

On health care, the candidates repeated party lines, with Democrats saying that Obama's health care plan better supports students, women, individuals with pre-existing conditions and more while the Republican candidates deemed it a fiscally suspect plan.

"Obamacare," Coors said with a sigh. "This plan is an absolute disaster."

More from our Politics archive: "Video: Stephen Barton, Aurora theater shooting victim, stars in gun-control ad"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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