Updated: April 24, 2014 at 6:43 pm
DENVER — Three Republicans sparring for the right to challenge Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in the November election were united on several issues in a debate Thursday, including their opposition to new gun restrictions.
The GOP gubernatorial candidates differed slightly on same-sex marriage and abortion, but former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former state Sen. Mike Kopp made clear in their pitches at the studios of KUSA-TV that they believed any of them would be better than the Democratic incumbent.
A fourth candidate running in the GOP primary on June 24, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, chose not to participate.
Each GOP hopeful trails Hickenlooer, according to a poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University. Hickenlooper's closest Republican rival, according to the poll, is Tancredo, who trails the governor by seven points.
Beauprez, Gessler and Kopp all said they would repeal gun restrictions passed last year, including an expansion of background checks for firearms sales and limits on the size of ammunition magazines.
Governors don't have the authority to repeal laws on their own, but they have a bully pulpit to urge the Legislature to act.
Each candidate said he would execute death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted of murder in the deaths of four people at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora in 1996. Hickenlooper granted Dunlap an indefinite stay last year and has been criticized heavily by Republican opponents over the decision.
Kopp and Beauprez said they would undo the law that lowered tuition for students in the country illegally to an in-state rate. Gessler, for his part, said "probably yes" he would seek to repeal the law.
Beauprez, Gessler and Kopp showed slim differences on the question of repealing same-sex civil unions.
"I'd have to look at the bill before us, but that option is on the table," Gessler said.
"No, I would not," Beauprez said.
"It's not on my agenda right now," Kopp said, but added that he believes in "traditional marriage."
They all said they oppose abortion, but Gessler said there should be exemptions when the life of a mother is at risk, and for rape and incest.
Beauprez also said there should be exemptions for a mother's safety. He added that he would respect the views of those who disagree with his stance on abortion. "I respect, and I will honor that while I am governor. We know what the law is," Beauprez said.
Kopp was more firm in his belief against abortion. "When I say pro-life, I'm always pro-life," he said.
The candidates agreed that local governments should not impose their own bans on hydraulic fracturing. Then they were asked whether they would allow fracking in their backyard.
"Absolutely," Beauprez said. "Bring it on."
"If I could get it into my backyard, yes," Kopp replied.
Gessler joked, "I'm pretty confident I can't fit an oil well into my backyard."
The Republicans also agreed on the need for having tighter regulations on the state's recreational marijuana industry. And the candidates each dismissed recent comments from Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie insulting Colorado and its legalization of the drug.
"Getting advice from the governor of New Jersey about our quality of life," Kopp said, "is like getting advice from the cast of 'Jersey Shore' on dating."