Businessman Joe O’Dea has won Colorado’s Republican nomination for the Senate, NBC News projects, giving his party a relatively moderate candidate supportive of some abortion rights in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
O’Dea beat state Rep. Ron Hanks, a 2020 election denier who opposes abortion without exception, for the right to face Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in November.
A construction company CEO, O’Dea also overcame nearly $4 million in spending by Democratic Colorado, a group that meddled in the primary by questioning his conservative credentials while signal-boosting right-wing positions taken by Hanks, who participated in the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the 2021 attack on the Capitol. By comparison, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, O’Dea spent $1.4 million on ads. Hanks spent nothing.
Democrats have used similar tactics in other Republican primaries to help engineer more favorable matchups. Colorado — once a purple state — has gone deep blue in recent years, with then-Sen. Cory Gardner’s loss to Democrat John Hickenlooper, a former governor, dealing the GOP a decisive statewide blow in 2020. But national Republicans have talked up the state as a sleeper pickup opportunity in November if a large wave of midterm voters revolts against President Joe Biden and Democrats beyond the traditional battlegrounds.
O’Dea ran as a more mainstream Republican, emphasizing issues like jobs, inflation and the national debt on his campaign website. Hanks talked about those issues, too. But he is known in Colorado’s Legislature for his focus on election issues that perpetuate former President Donald Trump’s lies and debunked claims that a second term was stolen from him in 2020. In a video to kick off his campaign, Hanks shot at an electronic copier dressed up as a Dominion voting machine.
Hanks also maintained a strict opposition to abortion, without exceptions. Abortion is legal in Colorado, under a Democratic bill that was passed this year to get ahead of the anticipated reversal of Roe v. Wade.
“If we were to get conservatives, key word, conservatives, not Republicans — conservatives — in the state House and the state Senate, we have the opportunity to define what Colorado wants,” Hanks said when he was asked about abortion last month at a GOP debate. “It’s not coming from [U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer and this leftist progressive cabal that does not believe life begins at conception.”
O’Dea does not favor abortion bans early in pregnancy, and he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest and certain health circumstances.
“I’m telling you right now, the country is not 100% pro-life, it’s not 100% pro-choice,” O’Dea said last month at the same debate. “I believe in balance. That’s where I’m at.”
Like several other Republicans seeking high office this year, Hanks has acknowledged participating in a Jan. 6 rally that preceded the deadly 2021 attack on the Capitol aimed at disrupting the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory over Trump. Hanks has written about his experiences that day, drawing a distinction between the protest he joined and the violent breach of the Capitol, which he has said he did not enter.
O’Dea has accepted the results of the last presidential election.
“Look, I’ve been consistent with my message,” he told Colorado Public Radio in a recent interview. “Biden’s our president; he’s a lousy president. … I’m not looking backwards at what happened. What’s important to working Americans here in Colorado, and across the country, is looking forward. It’s making sure we get control on this inflation. It’s reducing the price of gas.”
Bennet, who, like Hickenlooper, waged an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2020, starts the general election as the favorite. The Cook Political Report rates the seat as “likely Democratic.”
Ben Kamisar contributed.