The Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado suggested yesterday that Congress would not have voted to authorize a war in Iraq if the members had known "what we know today." GOP candidate Pete Coors went on to say that, "based on weapons of mass destruction," the United States should be more concerned about Iran and North Korea than Iraq.

Coors, who will host President Bush at a large fundraiser today in Denver, has described himself as a "strong backer of the war on terror." But discussing the war yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," the brewery executive raised doubts about whether Congress would still give Bush the authority to wage war in Iraq, given the change in intelligence assessments since the congressional vote in 2002.

"I suspect that, given what we know today, there would be a much different outcome than we had a couple of years ago," Coors said.

Despite repeated questions from host Tim Russert, Coors declined to say whether he would vote for a war in Iraq, based on current intelligence. "I don't think it's appropriate today to second-guess what decision would be made today, based on the information we have," he explained.

"We can say weapons of mass destruction, no weapons of mass destruction," Coors said. "Clearly, we should be more worried today, actually, about Iran and North Dakota than we are -- that is, North Korea -- than we are about Iraq, based on weapons of mass destruction."

Seated next to Coors, the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat, state Attorney General Ken Salazar, said he would vote today for a resolution giving the president authority to act in Iraq. But Salazar criticized Bush's management of the war.

"We have a mess on our hands," Salazar said, citing the comments of three Republican senators who have warned recently that the war is going badly. "What we ought to be doing is learning from the mistakes that have been made and also looking forward to what we ought to do in Iraq to try to stabilize the country."

Salazar and Coors are engaged in one of the tightest Senate races this fall, and one that offers Democrats the chance to pick up a seat that had been considered safely Republican.

The popular incumbent, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, was considered a sure bet for reelection until last spring. Then Campbell got snarled in a federal investigation of financial kickbacks in his office. Citing health problems, he dropped out of the race.

Salazar, who has had bipartisan support in previous Colorado elections, appears to hold a slim lead in the contest, based on recent polls. But Coors, whose family-owned brewery is a point of pride for Coloradans, enjoys universal name recognition and has proved to be an engaging campaigner.

A recurring problem for Coors is he has sided with the conservative wing of his party in Colorado in opposing marital and adoption rights for gay couples, while the company that bears his name is promoting itself energetically among gay consumers.

Russert raised the issue yesterday. "Why the conflict between the marketing your company does," he asked, "and these [political] positions, which are opposed to those taken by the gay community?"

Coors replied that "everyone in this country should be valued for what they are, and I believe that's the way we recognize it at our company."

Salazar said the difference between Coors, the brewer, and Coors, the candidate, "shows the two faces of Pete Coors."

Both candidates appeared to stumble when Russert asked them to explain how they would deal with the federal budget deficit.

Challenged to explain his plan to continue cutting taxes and still balance the budget, Coors said the tax cuts would create jobs, stimulate the economy and increase federal revenue.

That standard answer has caused Coors problems in his home state, however, because his company has not increased employment despite four tax cuts under the Bush administration.

Salazar said he would seek to end "fiscal recklessness in Washington" and cited proposals to cut federal spending on prescription drugs and other expenses.

But Salazar also said he favors further tax cuts for the middle class.

Colorado State Attorney General Ken Salazar, left, a Democrat, and Pete Coors, a Republican, are competing for a U.S. Senate seat.