A glimpse through campaign materials from Republican U.S. Senate candidates Joe O’Dea and Ron Hanks gives the impression the rivals are running separate races.
O’Dea, a Denver native who owns a construction company, singles out U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the Democratic incumbent; Hanks, a state representative from Cañon City, highlights O’Dea’s openness to Roe v. Wade.
It shows two different tacks by the candidates as they fight for the GOP nomination in the June 28 primary election. The winner will face Bennet, who is seeking his third term, this November. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report ranks it as a likely Democratic hold, given Colorado’s recent blue trends. However, it could prove pivotal to a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate if voters continue to sour on the economy and other issues they tie to Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C.
Hanks has positioned himself as the no-compromise champion of the right — he proudly declares his attendance at the Jan. 6 rally led by former President Donald Trump, though he didn’t breach the Capitol when the event turned into an insurrection; in his first ad, he blew up an office copier mocked up as Dominion voting machine while promoting the unfounded theory that the election was stolen from Trump; and he wears as a badge of honor the 24-hour filibuster by Republicans in the state House of Representatives against a now-law to protect abortion in Colorado.
O’Dea frames himself as a consensus builder — he explicitly keeps away from what he calls “social issues,” such as abortion rights, and instead leans on his business experience while hammering Bennet and President Joe Biden on inflation, gas prices and crime. He’s also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money on the race.
This month, Colorado Republican and unaffiliated voters will get to choose which man to pit against Bennet in the general election. And in doing so, declaring distinctly different shades of Republican as the party’s standard bearer this November.
Two different paths to the Republican primary ballot
Hanks cleared much the crowded primary field for the GOP nomination at the spring Republican State Assembly. He won support from about 40% of assembly goers, and none of the other candidates there cleared the threshold to land on the ballot.
The assembly delegates tend to be among the most dedicated and rock-ribbed Republicans in the state. Hanks repeatedly touts his assembly victory as proof of his bona fides and that Republicans need a staunch conservative to beat Bennet.
“I am the proven conservative in this race,” Hanks said in his closing remarks at the Western Conservative Summit on Friday. “I am top line on the ballot because Republicans at assembly selected me as their only candidate.”
O’Dea instead gathered signatures for the chance to face Bennet in November — a common practice, but, in Hanks’ telling, evidence of O’Dea ducking the conservative base.
However, Republicans make up only about a quarter of active, registered voters in the state. Unaffiliated voters, at 45%, are the largest bloc in the state, and are already being explicitly targeted by O’Dea.
Beating Bennet will mean winning a large chunk of unaffiliated voters to the Republican cause. They’re also eligible to vote in any primary election. In the two elections since the law change allowing that, they’ve tended to vote in Democratic primaries. However, Democratic incumbents fill all the statewide seats, making the Republican primary the only meaningful statewide contest this June.
Asked if the contrast between the two candidates makes this election a referendum on the future of the Colorado Republican Party, O’Dea stuck to the general election messaging: It is a referendum on what’s happening in Colorado, he said. His campaign tracks gas prices daily, and he emphasizes the effect inflation has on businesses and working people.
“We’re going to make sure that we hold Michael Bennet accountable for Joe Biden’s America, and that’s what needs to happen here in Colorado,” O’Dea said.
In a post to his website, Hanks asserts the race highlights “the long-running rift between the Colorado Republican grassroots conservatives and the small but influential, Republican Party leadership in Colorado.”
Politician versus the businessman
O’Dea and Hanks come about politics from separate tracks. This is Hanks’ second try at federal office, following a failed bid for a California Congress seat in 2010. According to his campaign website, he bought land in Colorado in 2007 with the intent of retiring here after 32 years in active and reserve duty with the Air Force and working in hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota.
Hanks won a seat in the state legislature in 2020, after an uncontested primary race for the Republican nomination and then with 62% of the vote in the general election. It’s unclear exactly when he moved to the state and he did not respond to inquiries sent to an email or phone number listed in state records.
In the two legislative sessions since, he was a prime sponsor of six bills, none of which became law in the Democrat-controlled legislature: Two pertained to election security, two were pro-firearms, one would have helped agencies buy water storage tanks for wildfire fighting, and one would have given tax-credits to families with children in non-public schools.
“I have a voting record, a conservative voting record, that people can look at,” Hanks said on the Dan Caplis Show recently. “I will encourage them to look at Liberty Scorecard and see how we voted. I put bills into the system that reflect conservative Coloradan values.”
Further, he noted that he’s faced Colorado voters, whether it was in his House race or at the assembly, where he “swept the other candidates off the table.”
While Hanks is touting his time in the legislature as a plus, and proof of the values he’ll fight for, O’Dea is trying to turn it into a vulnerability. Hanks has missed more committee votes than any other member of the House, according to O’Dea’s campaign.
A survey of the House Energy & Environment and Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services committee records, which Hanks served on, shows he was marked absent for all or most recorded votes at nearly half of their meetings in 2022.
“My one other opponent in the race, he’s got a track record of not showing up down in our legislature. He’s got the worst in the House, of anyone else, of showing up,” O’Dea said at a recent campaign stop. “I will show up. That’s one guarantee: I’ll work hard.”
While at small meet-and-greets, O’Dea has declined to name his opponent. He instead favored oblique references to this being a winnable race for Republicans, if they choose him as the nominee. That changed at the Western Conservative Summit, where he accused Hanks by name of being a politician with “his finger in the air” due to shifting political positions from when he ran for Congress.
Hanks told Colorado Politics last year that his positions listed on a 2010 candidate survey, including no restrictions on gun purchase or possession of firearms and no blanket amnesty for undocumented immigrants, “remain valid and are my positions to this day.” That includes saying about abortion that he would “hold open a measured and narrow window for medical experts — I am not one — to provide expertise and guidance in specific situations.”
O’Dea founded Concrete Express, Inc., in the 1980s. The company focuses on civil contracts and has done hundreds of millions of dollars of work for state and local Colorado governments. He boasts that it now employs hundreds of people.
O’Dea announced he would run in October 2021. His prior political experience was mostly limited to advocating for the construction industry through trade organizations and a scattering of donations to Republican and Democratic politicians. That includes $500 to Bennet during his 2010 campaign.
In a post to his website, Hanks asserts conservative voters will find those donations “off-putting.”
O’Dea, meanwhile, said he hasn’t been too involved in politics otherwise. In one example, he said that while he supported businessman Jack Graham in the 2016 Republican U.S. Senate primary he didn’t pay too much attention to that race and didn’t take any particular lessons from it. Graham ended up losing the nomination to Darryl Glenn, a staunch conservative.
In this race, O’Dea has also collected a bevy of endorsements, including the Colorado branch of the National Rifle Association, numerous law enforcement officials, and Republican officials, including the state’s last GOP governor, Bill Owens.
O’Dea and Hanks on abortion rights
There is perhaps no starker political line-in-the-sand in Colorado than abortion. In the last legislative session, House Republicans led an all-night filibuster of a bill to enshrine abortion rights into law. Hanks wears his participation in that fight as a badge.
“(Abortion) may be a social issue, but you know, it’s more than that. It’s murder,” Hanks said at the Western Conservative Summit, alluding to O’Dea saying he didn’t want to campaign on social issues. “And that is something that we have to decide where we are on that position.”
At the same event, which was littered with explicitly anti-abortion speakers, O’Dea addressed those differences head on. His scripted remarks included noting that he opposes late-term elective abortions and taxpayer funding for the procedure, but not a total ban.
“That decision (on abortion) is between a person and their God, not me,” O’Dea said. “That’s not what government is designed to do. They shouldn’t be in the middle of that decision.”
Colorado voters have been asked four times since 2008 to ban abortion, and said no each time. Most recently, they voted 59% to 41% against a ballot measure to ban abortion at 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Source: Read Full Article