Denver construction CEO Joe O’Dea is poised to be the Colorado Republican Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in November after prevailing in a head-to-head primary contest with far-right state Rep. Ron Hanks.
With nearly 500,000 ballots counted, O’Dea led Hanks by a 10-point margin Tuesday night, according to unofficial results. The Associated Press called the race for O’Dea a little over half an hour after polls closed.
O’Dea will face Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet in November in a key race that could help decide which party controls the Senate. While prominent political observers have forecast Bennet as the favorite, his bid to win a third full Senate term could be thwarted by a challenging midterm election environment for Democrats.
In a speech to supporters Tuesday night, O’Dea said the midterms would be “a referendum on Joe Biden’s policies and Michael Bennet’s rubber stamp.”
“On inflation, spending, and the debt, on energy policy and gas prices, on rampant crime and a broken border — on all of it, every single time, when the chips are down, Michael Bennet does whatever Joe Biden wants him to do,” O’Dea said.
Tuesday’s result was a victory for establishment Republicans — who were quick to call the win a “blowout” that represented a new direction for the party — and a flop for a controversial last-minute effort by Democrats to prop up Hanks, who was viewed as a weaker general-election matchup for Bennet.
O’Dea has staked out moderate positions on some issues, including support for a limited right to abortion early in pregnancy and for the bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted last year. In a debate earlier this month, however, he joined Hanks in endorsing a potential 2024 comeback for former President Donald Trump, and the two candidates struck many similar notes on the primary campaign trail.
Both called for drastic cuts to federal spending and regulations, said they would oppose a recent bipartisan gun control bill and have rejected the scientific consensus on climate change, with O’Dea ruling out a shift away from fossil fuel use for “the next 100 years.”
While he has said that he believes Biden’s election was legitimate, O’Dea has also endorsed right-wing “election integrity” measures like purges of inactive voter registrations, which voting-rights advocates say disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Americans each election year. At an event last week, he said that Republicans “are probably right” to believe that “there’s a problem with our electorate.”
“Joe O’Dea is hanging on by a thread after a tumultuous, costly primary where he highlighted his far-right positions that are out of step with Coloradans,” Colorado Democratic Party spokesperson Nico Delgado said in a statement. “O’Dea proved that he would be a reliable vote for MAGA Republicans to enact their dangerous agenda.”
O’Dea has self-funded his campaign to the tune of at least $1.6 million, including an additional $500,000 in personal contributions in the final days of the primary. He also received outside support in the form of over $1 million in spending by a Republican super PAC, American Policy Fund.
A newly registered super PAC, Democratic Colorado, reported spending more than $4 million over the last several weeks on ads aimed at influencing the GOP primary. One ad nominally attacked Hanks for being “too conservative for Colorado,” drawing attention to his 2020 election denial and support for a total abortion ban, while another highlighted O’Dea’s past donations to Colorado Democrats.
In a statement, Colorado Republican Party chair Kristi Burton Brown congratulated O’Dea and other presumptive GOP nominees for their victories on Tuesday,
“The Democrats proved throughout this primary that they are afraid,” Burton Brown said. “They spent millions of dollars in illegal and false mailers because they know Michael Bennet and Jared Polis are in trouble.
Bennet was confirmed as the Democratic nominee in an uncontested primary. He prevailed over his previous Republican challenger, Darryl Glen, by a six-point margin in 2016, and his fellow Colorado Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper soundly defeated former GOP Sen. Cory Gardner by 10 points in 2020 — but O’Dea expressed confidence that Colorado will turn red again this year.
“Now we have it,” he told supporters. “The election Michael Bennet did not want.”
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