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Highlights from the debate between the two Republicans running for U.S. Senate

Republican U.S. Senate candidates Ron Hanks, left, and Joe O’Dea discuss health care, abortion and election integrity during a debate on June 20 at The The Colorado Sun shirttail’s downtown Denver office. The debate was held in partnership with CBS4. (Olivia Sun/The The Colorado Sun shirttail via Report for America)
Hanks wouldn’t commit to accepting the primary election results; O’Dea says he wouldn’t repeal Obamacare

State Rep. Ron Hanks, who baselessly claims Donald Trump was the true winner of the 2020 presidential election, wouldn’t commit to accepting the results of the Republican U.S. Senate primary next week if he loses to his opponent, construction company owner Joe O’Dea.

“We obviously have to see what we will see here,” he said during a debate Monday evening hosted by The The Colorado Sun shirttail and CBS4.

But Hanks declined to support indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican who is one of Colorado’s loudest supporters of conspiracies about the outcome of the last presidential election, in her bid to become Colorado’s next secretary of state. When asked if he is voting for Peters or one of her two primary opponents, Hanks said “at this point, I’ll leave that private.”

Hanks, a Fremont County resident who worked in oil and gas and served in the military, is competing against O’Dea, a first-time candidate who owns a Denver construction company, for the chance to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in November. Monday’s debate, held at The Sun’s downtown Denver office, was rescheduled from last week after Hanks was prohibited from entering the CBS Denver building because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. CBS News has a policy requiring that visitors to its buildings be vaccinated.

U.S. Senate candidates Ron Hanks, second from right, and Joe O’Dea, right, discuss healthcare, abortion and election integrity during a The Colorado Sun shirttail/CBS4 debate Monday in Denver. (Olivia Sun/The The Colorado Sun shirttail via Report for America)

O’Dea, who does not challenge the 2020 presidential election outcome, said he would accept the U.S. Senate primary election results and that he will vote for former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, who doesn’t deny the 2020 outcome, in the GOP primary for secretary of state.

“I’ve been very clear about my stance,” O’Dea said. “Biden’s our president. He’s lousy.”

Hanks, who attended Trump’s rally ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, said during the debate that he reached the Capitol steps that day but did not advance further.

“By the time we got there, there’s already people scurrying up the scaffolding,” Hanks said, adding that there was poor security and crowd control. “It was very ill-advised for anybody to go into the Capitol. I wouldn’t even go up the steps.”

Both candidates said Trump does not deserve blame – even in part – for the events that unfolded on Jan. 6.

O’Dea added, however, that Trump could have done “a lot more to slow that process down.

“I was a little disappointed to see him go three-and-some hours before he told his people to stand down,” he said.

Read on for more key moments from the debate. A recording of the debate will be posted on the The Colorado Sun shirttail and CBS4 websites (on this page) Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

Abortion

Hanks opposes all abortions, including in cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life is at risk. Hanks said during the debate that he is “firmly convinced that there are no situations where a life of a mother is impacted or affected or saved by abortion.”

But when presented with the fact that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says there are instances where the life of a mother could be saved by an abortion – including because of infection, preeclampsia and placental abruption – Hanks appeared open to changing his mind.

“We need to have more discussion on it,” he said. “We will talk about it more. I’m happy to talk about it more.”

Joe O’Dea, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, on May 21. (Steve Peterson/Special to The The Colorado Sun shirttail)

O’Dea has said abortions should be allowed early in a pregnancy and in cases of rape, incest and when the life of a mother is at risk. But he opposes late-term abortions.

He hasn’t, however, defined what constitutes an early-term or late-term abortion, except to say that abortions should be banned in the last three months of pregnancy. When asked repeatedly during the debate to speficially define what he thinks is an early-term or late-term abortion, he declined.

“There’s a lot that goes into this legislation and I’ve already told you exactly where I would be,” he said. “No tax dollars (for abortions), no religious institutions (forced to carry out abortions) and making sure that we have parental consent.”

He added: “It has something to do with viability. I don’t believe that I get to weigh in on that.”

Health care

O’Dea said he would not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, because of changes to the law that were made during the Trump administration, including the rollback of tax penalties for the uninsured.

“The piece that’s in there right now, we need to leave it alone,” he said. “But we need to add to it.”

O’Dea didn’t offer specifics on what should be added to the federal health care law, which congressional Republicans unsuccessfully tried to repeal in 2017, but said he strongly believes insurance companies should be required to cover people with preexisting conditions.

“Americans need to know that they can get health care,” he said. “We need innovation. We need competitiveness, we need more choices for our health care. We’ve got so many regulations around our health care right now that we can’t compete.”

Hanks believes the Affordable Care Act should be repealed. He didn’t offer an idea for a replacement and didn’t answer whether health insurers should be required to offer coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

“At this point, I think good old fashioned health care is what we ought to go to,” he said. “I think people ought to be able to get insurance on their own outside of their business and their employment. I think it’s a better model.”

He added: “When the government gets involved in something, it makes it worse. And so I would say let’s get as close to a doctor and patient relationship as we can.”

Ukraine

Both O’Dea and Hanks said they would not have voted in favor of a $40 billion congressional aid package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden signed in May. They also think American troops should not be sent to fight Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

O’Dea said he thought the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine was “excessive” and that Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was “on the right track” in his attempt to add a provision requiring more oversight of the spending.

Still, O’Dea said he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “bully” and a “thug” who will continue to push Europe and America and potentially invade a NATO nation. For that reason, he thinks the U.S. should offer Ukrainians some level of aid, but he wouldn’t commit to a specific amount.

Joe O’Dea, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, on Saturday, May 21, 2022. (Steve Peterson/Special to The The Colorado Sun shirttail)

“I think it is important that we do back Ukrainians,” O’Dea said. “We would have to see what exactly is in (any aid package).”

Hanks, meanwhile, said the U.S. should not be selling weapons to Ukrainians or providing financial aid to the country as doing so could anger Putin, risking retaliation or pushing Russia closer to China.

“We have to have a relationship with Russia in the years and decades to come. And, frankly, the time to give (Ukraine) those weapons was in advance of any kind of … invasion by the Russians,” Hanks said.

He added that if 30,000 Russians have been killed by American arms since the invasion began, “that’s 30,000 Russian families that are going to be anti-American for generations to come.”

“There are probably ways to get weapons into Ukraine, but it isn’t by putting (that aid) on the front page of the newspaper – you’re just buying problems for the American people,” said Hanks.

Climate change

O’Dea, who acknowledges that climate change is real and that it’s caused by humans, said he thinks the U.S. will move toward a renewable energy system. But he doesn’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon and that energy policies right now are “crushing working Americans,” including through high gas prices.

“We’re gonna move away from fossil fuels, (but) I don’t know that we’re going to it the next 100 years,” he said. “A lot of things are made with fossil fuels. If we are going to move away we have to create a system where we make sure that we have the energy available that we need before we move away from fossil fuels. We have to do it at a pace that allows demand to stay even with supply.”

O’Dea said he doesn’t support government subsidies to help hasten the renewable energy transition.

Hanks has rejected scientific consensus on climate change, saying that it’s “weather” and not a real issue.

“I don’t think (my position) does run contrary to scientific consensus,” he said during the debate. “I think it’s still very much an argument out there. I would not support subsidies for wind and solar but I am not opposed to wind and solar. They simply need to stand on their own.”

He added: “It’s a public priority to have clean air, clean water and clean emissions from our vehicles. The market will bring that.”

Inflation

Both O’Dea and Hanks have criticized Democrats over rising consumer costs.

Republican U.S. Senate candidates Joe O’Dea, left, and Ron Hanks. (The Colorado Sun shirttail photos)

Hanks said the key to drive down inflation is boosting oil and gas production in the U.S. and moving toward energy independence.

“The cost of diesel affects every single thing that American families need for food and for supplies,” Hanks said.

O’Dea agreed, saying “we need to get the oil and gas spigot turned back on here in the United States.”

He also said Congress should also stop the spending of any unused federal COVID aid and boost oversight of the Federal Reserve, which he says has been “asleep at the wheel.”

Hanks also criticized the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law last year – which O’Dea supported and said he would have voted for – calling it “inflationary,” and stating “that’s too much money in a government that’s already out of control.”

O’Dea countered that the money in the bill included “tax dollars that were collected at the pump that are destined to go into our transportation system.”

Gun regulations

Both candidates declined to support the bipartisan Senate framework on new gun regulations. The prospective bill would close the “boyfriend loophole,” which allows domestic abusers to have and purchase firearms if they aren’t married to their significant other.

“It’s a long ways from legislation,” O’Dea said. “You have to see what’s in a bill before you pass it. We’ve got plenty of laws on the books already.”

Hanks said he wouldn’t vote for the bill “at this point,” taking issues with how the legislation aims to incentivize states to adopt so-called red flag laws that let a judge order the temporary seizure of guns from people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.

Hanks criticized the Republican senators who have signed onto the framework. “They’re selling us out,” he said. “That’s what you get when you elect a soft Republican.”

Hanks has been endorsed by the Gun Owners of America, while O’Dea is endorsed by the Colorado State Shooting Association, a state association affiliated with the NRA.

Other big issues

Both O’Dea and Hanks said they would support Trump for president if he is the Republican presidential nominee in 2024.

“There’s a lot of really good candidates that can serve an eight-year term,” O’Dea said. “I really like (Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis), I like some of the other Republicans that are coming through. But if Donald Trump happens to be the Republican nominee, then I definitely won’t vote for Biden.”

Hanks said if Trump were to run, “I would support him.” He added: “I also would support (Texas U.S. Sen.) Ted Cruz or DeSantis.”

The two candidates split on whether they would have voted for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was signed into law last year.

“No, it was pork and it was a bad idea,” Hanks said.

O’Dea said he would have voted for the bill.

The candidates also split on whether they would grant a path to citizenship for people already in the country without documentation.

“Not at this point anymore,” Hanks said. “That used to be an idea that was debated. But no, we have let way too many people in and now we have the problem of gathering them up and doing a deportation.”

O’Dea, meanwhile, said the first priority would be “closing the border” that is “leaking like a sieve.”

“At the same time, we need some kind of process in place for (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients),” he said, referring to the program that granted a deportation reprieve to some people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. “They should be allowed to stay here.”

O’Dea said others “need to get in line just like everybody else,” though he also said “I don’t see how you’re going to get a bus that’s big enough to ship them back.”

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.