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Joe O’Dea beats Ron Hanks in Colorado’s Republican U.S. Senate primary

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea discusses health care, abortion and election integrity during a debate with state Rep. Ron Hanks on June 20, hosted by The Colorado Sun and CBS4. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
O'Dea, a first-time candidate, overcame millions of dollars in Democratic spending to aid his primary opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks

First-time candidate Joe O’Dea on Tuesday secured the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Colorado despite millions of dollars in Democratic spending to aid his primary opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks.

The Associated Press projected at about 7:30 p.m. that O’Dea would win.

O’Dea, who owns a Denver construction company, had 55% of the vote compared to the 45% of the vote that went to Hanks as of 8:06 p.m. Tens of thousands of votes still had to be counted.

“I won’t vote for the party line,” O’Dea said in a victory speech. “I’ll be more like a Republican Joe Manchin. I will always put America and Colorado first.”

Manchin is a Democratic U.S. senator from West Virginia who frequently bucks his party.

Democratic Colorado, a Democratic political action committee, spent more than $4 million on TV ads during the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Colorado, including $1.6 million in the final days, to boost Hanks’ profile and attack O’Dea. Other Democratic groups paid for mailers and text messages to increase Hanks’ chances of winning.

Labor groups and the Colorado Democratic Party held a news conference late last week to scrutinize O’Dea’s record as a business owner in what appeared to be a final attempt to sink his campaign during the primary.

All of that money and effort, however, didn’t work. O’Dea appeared to be headed toward a commanding victory in the race.

Democrats made it clear that they preferred to have Hanks face Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in the November general election because they saw O’Dea as a more formidable opponent. And in a primary election in which polling showed voters didn’t really know either candidate, there was a potential for the spending to make a big difference.

But O’Dea and a super PAC supporting him dropped about $1 million on TV ads in recent days to counter the Democratic spending and attack Hanks. And it appears to have countered the attack.

O’Dea is more moderate than Hanks. He has said abortions should be allowed early in a pregnancy and rejects claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. He also said the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, shouldn’t be repealed right now.

Hanks is a 2020 election denier who attended the rally preceding the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. He said all abortions should be outlawed and attacked O’Dea as being a squishy conservative, especially because O’Dea has donated to Democratic candidates – including Bennet – in the past.

Unaffiliated voter Sara Normandin, a 43-year-old in Lakewood, voted in the Republican primary for candidates she felt were most likely to lose to Democrats in November, including Hanks, gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez and 7th Congressional District candidate Tim Reichert.

“I voted Republican because I’m hoping that the Democrats win,” Normandin said. “I voted for those most likely to lose.”

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

Bennet will be tough for Republicans to beat in November. He has been a U.S. senator since 2009, when he was appointed to his seat by then-Gov. Bill Ritter, a fellow Democrat, to fill a vacancy left by then-Sen. Ken Salazar’s appointment as Secretary of the Interior.

No Republican running for statewide office has won more than 45% of the vote since 2016. Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election prognosticator, says Colorado’s U.S. Senate race this year is likely tilting in Democrats’ favor despite the fact that the party is “staring down one of their worst political environments in nearly a decade.”