Colorado GOP nominee who thinks Trump lost is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet

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DENVER — Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) has had tough campaign cycles. He barely survived the Republican tsunami in 2010, chaired the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in 2014 when his party was wiped out, and in 2016 won re-election against a flawed opponent with less than 50% of the vote.

Until recently, Bennet’s bid for a third term this year has garnered little national attention. But two things changed that:

One is the escalating battle for overall control of the Senate, amid concerns among Republicans that, despite a favorable political climate, weak candidates could cost them seats in November.

The other is the Republican opponent that Bennet has drawn. In an election season in which Republican primary voters in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania have elevated Holocaust deniers and other questionable candidates, Denver business executive Joe O’Dea stands out. exception.

To win the GOP nomination, O’Dea defeated Ron Hanks, a state representative who attended President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, though he didn’t go. at the Capitol with the rioters. That a Trump supporter was defeated in the June primary is perhaps unsurprising. Colorado voters showed a particularly deep dislike of Trump. His in-state voting percentages in 2016 and 2020 were in the bottom 15 of 50 states. There was also a surge of unaffiliated voters who entered the Republican primary, likely contributing to a statewide ticket that GOP officials say is the strongest in decades. years.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday there was a better chance of Republicans taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives than the Senate, noting the “quality of the candidates” in the statewide races.

O’Dea is still an underdog against Bennet, and even if he were to win, Republicans might need to clinch a Senate seat or two to regain a majority, given current trends in some key races.

Republicans see Nevada as a good opportunity to secure a seat in the Senate, but their hopes of winning the seat held by the Democrats in Georgia have been dashed by the candidacy of their candidate, Herschel Walker. And a recent poll in Arizona showed Sen. Mark Kelly (D) leading Republican Holocaust denier Blake Masters.

Meanwhile, other polls show Democratic candidates leading GOP-held seats in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and even in increasingly red Ohio, Republicans may not be a sure enough, given GOP nominee JD Vance’s spotty performance so far.

A sign of the perceived potential for Colorado Republicans emerged last week when the independent political report Cook With Amy Walter upped its rating from likely Democrat to lean Democrat. A congressional colleague of Bennet’s privately said he believed the incumbent would prevail, but that the contest with O’Dea is “a real race.”

Bennet, whose memories of 2010, 2014 and 2016 remain fresh, doesn’t disagree. The effects of rising gas and food prices, the history of midterm elections costing the ruling party, and President Biden’s unpopularity in Colorado and nationally all add up, he said, to a “difficult combination”. But he said there is a big difference from previous rounds which he hopes will work to his advantage. “I think we have a record of achievement that looks different than all those previous years,” he said.

Bennet, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, spoke during an interview at a Denver coffee shop days before Biden signed the Cut Inflation Act. The big climate, health care, and tax bill that passed in party votes in the House and Senate was a signal of Democratic success after Congress passed several other laws — a draft bill. gun safety legislation, a semiconductor production bill and a measure to help veterans exposed to toxic burn sites – with Democratic and Republican votes.

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McConnell said the GOP would be “all in” for O’Dea, as many see him as setting a favorable contrast to Bennett. A political novice, O’Dea is a construction mogul and self-taught executive with deep roots in Colorado. He dropped out of college to go it alone to build a business that now employs “300 families,” as he said in an interview at his campaign office.

When asked if he had always considered himself a Republican, he replied, “I have always considered myself a conservative. I’m probably not what you call a fringe Republican. O’Dea does not question the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 victory and calls the Jan. 6 riot “a black eye on our country.”

O’Dea said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, but he hopes neither Trump nor Biden will run in 2024. He said he would try to help someone else become the Republican presidential candidate. When asked if he would vote for Trump if he were the 2024 GOP nominee, O’Dea replied, “I wouldn’t vote for Biden,” he said. “We will have to see. You know, it’s hypothetical.

O’Dea said he decided to run for Senate because he saw “our freedoms being encroached upon” by the government. “I call it death by a thousand cuts,” he added. “Government is getting in the way of business, preventing employees from living their lives freely, and encroaching more and more on what we do, rules and regulations and bureaucracy, and none of that adds value.”

He said he believed the climate was changing but preferred ‘cautious’ rather than ‘urgent’ action. Asked about his stance on environmental regulations, particularly in relation to fossil fuels, he said: “I would default to those who know – the oil and gas people.”

Unlike many in his party, O’Dea opposed the June Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. He calls himself “personally pro-life” but supports abortion rights up to around 20 weeks of pregnancy and supports exceptions for rape, incest and both the life and health of the mother in the following months. He said he would not support a nationwide law banning abortion if he was in the Senate.

But Bennet’s latest TV ad accuses O’Dea of ​​saying he would have voted for Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees, who provided key votes to overturn. roe deerand says his challenger opposes a new Colorado law guaranteeing access to abortion.

O’Dea said he would not have supported the new gun safety bill or the Cut Inflation Act, points at which Bennett jumped.

“My vote for the bipartisan gun bill is popular in Colorado,” Bennett said. “His opposition to the bipartisan gun bill is unpopular in Colorado. My vote for the reconciliation package is hugely popular in Colorado. His view that he doesn’t like anything about this reconciliation package is incredibly unpopular.

O’Dea said he and Bennet “couldn’t be more different,” an indication that he intends to draw a personal contrast between a fourth-generation Coloradan who rose through the ranks in the business world and an incumbent who grew up in Washington as the son of a diplomat, went to elite schools and was first appointed to the Senate rather than run and win the seat.

“I know what it’s like to have to put, you know, food on the table for a family,” O’Dea said. “I know what it’s like to sign checks. I know what it’s like to put a paycheck on my own credit card to make sure I pay for my help. All these things I understand. It’s a big contrast to where he comes from.

Bennet rejects the contrast between blue-collar and privileged. “He’ll invent whatever he wants to invent,” Bennett said. “I represented Colorado for 14 years. My positions on these issues are clear. …Joe O’Dea’s cartoon version of who I am is not who I am. I think my case is very clear. I know what I believe and I don’t have to think about it.

Colorado has yet to become as competitive as contests in some of the other states that have been at the forefront of the Senate fight. And O’Dea remains relatively untested as a candidate. But if the political climate deteriorates further for Democrats, the Bennet-O’Dea race could become critical for who controls the Senate in January.

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