The latest polls show a 1 percent lead for Salazar, indicating the race is locked in a statistical dead heat.
The campaign is drawing national attention because it is one of the races that could affect the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. The GOP currently holds 51 seats, but Colorado Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell decided to retire this year, leaving his seat open.
Coors and Salazar first squared off Saturday in Denver, at an hour-long debate sponsored by The Denver Post and KUSA-Channel 9.
Both candidates mostly remained loyal to party lines, mirroring the campaign pledges of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Coors said he supports President Bush’s five-point plan for Iraq, including security, rebuilding infrastructure and holding elections.
“We’ve planted seeds of freedom in the Middle East and we need to continue to stay the course,” Coors said.
Salazar blamed the Bush administration for intelligence failures and suggested that NATO help with security in Iraq. Coors agreed in part, saying NATO should aid in training Iraqi troops.
“We should be straight with the American people and we ought to be asking the tough questions: Do we have enough troops on the ground to win the peace?” Salazar said.
The candidates again sparred over Iraq on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Salazar called Coors a “rubber stamp” for President Bush’s plan for Iraq, a jab he’s repeated often during the campaign. But the program’s host, Tim Russert, pointed out Salazar’s similar allegiance to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
And Coors ridiculed Salazar for saying President Bush should have brought together a global coalition before entering Iraq.
“We should have. We should have. We should have,” Coors said. “Frankly, I haven’t heard yet. Ken Salazar’s plan to get people into a coalition who have been working with the enemy.”
Salazar said he would have authorized a war in Iraq even knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction, while Coors wouldn’t answer directly if he would have authorized a war in Iraq. He later added that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate to second guess what decision would be made today, based on the information we have,” Coors said.
Salazar and Coors also went head-to-head on domestic issues over the weekend.
In Saturday’s debate, Coors stated his support for President Bush’s tax cuts, saying the relief would help the economy.
“Tax cuts are working. People are coming back to work,” Coors said.
Salazar said he backs removing the tax cuts for America’s wealthy.
“We need to be very responsible (about) a deficit that is going to strangle our country,” Salazar said, criticizing Congress for irresponsible spending.
Both candidates’ positions also mimicked their party’s leaders on health care.
Coors said he supports health plans that would allow small business to come together for better insurance rates. He also said he is in favor of tort reform.
Salazar said he supports a 50 percent health care tax credit for small business employees and endorses the importation of drugs from Canada.
Gay marriage also came up in the debates. Russert questioned Coors’ anti-gay marriage and gay adoption stance despite his brewing company’s marketing objective to target gay consumers.
“One of our qualities of our values includes equality, and that’s a company issue. It’s a company position,” Coors said in response to the question.
Salazar said the difference between what Coors believes politically and what he practices in his business “shows the two faces of Pete Coors.”
Salazar’s Web site states he believes marriage is between one man and one woman but that he opposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
The two candidates will face off in two more debates in this week, confrontations that could have a major impact on the nearly tied race.