U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet began campaigning for re-election in earnest Thursday with the launch of his first 2022 television ad, a reintroduction to Colorado voters touting his work to get big money out of politics.
“Washington could learn a lot from Colorado,” Bennet says in the ad, which highlights the Democrat’s efforts to ban members of Congress from becoming lobbyists and from making personal stock trades while in office.
The ad also points out that Bennet’s campaign isn’t taking money directly from corporate political action committees.
But while the ad, powered by $600,000 in spending over two weeks, may not jump off the screen – it features Bennet hiking alone in the mountains – it comes as Colorado becomes a growing focus for national Republicans hoping to win a congressional majority in November.
The GOP’s chances of unseating Senate Democrats in other states, namely Georgia and Arizona, don’t appear to be as solid as they once were, mainly because of the GOP’s slate of candidates in those places.
“Those are races that the Republicans this year should be in a good position to flip,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan election prognosticator at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “But they’ve nominated very risky candidates.”
That means it’s possible more Republican money and effort is placed on trying to oust Bennet, who has been in office since 2009.
Bennet this year faces Republican Joe O’Dea, a wealthy first-time candidate who owns a Denver construction company and is trying to position himself as a moderate.
Democrats spent millions of dollars in the GOP primary trying to boost O’Dea’s opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks, an election denier and hard-line conservative, in an unsuccessful effort to prevent Bennet from facing O’Dea in November.
While Sabato’s Crystal Ball and other election analysts still think Bennet’s seat is likely to remain in Democrats’ hands – and O’Dea has dramatically less money in his campaign account compared with Bennet – they say in an election year that’s shaping up to be rough for Democrats it’s possible Bennet could be at risk.
“I think it goes back to you really can’t catch a wave without a surfboard,” Coleman said, explaining that Washington is another Democratic state where the GOP is making a concerted effort to win a Senate seat. “If you want to win these races you have to have good candidates.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, tossed his full support behind O’Dea on Tuesday night at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., according to Axios, vowing to be “all in in Colorado.” While McConnell’s embrace of a GOP candidate certainly isn’t surprising, his commitment to help O’Dea in a state whose voters backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 13 percentage points in 2020 is notable.
“We think we can win this race,” McConnell said, Axios reported, citing an unnamed person who attended the event.
National Republicans, however, have yet to commit resources into the Colorado Senate race. And Democrats are now attacking O’Dea’s close link to McConnell as an indication that he’s not actually moderate.
Bennet is starting his TV advertising much later than Colorado’s Senate incumbents, including himself, have in past years.
Bennet started airing TV ads in April during his 2016 re-election campaign, ultimately spending $9 million on TV. That included about $602,000 worth of ads in July.
Restoration PAC aired $609,000 worth of ads in July 2016 supporting Republican Darryl Glenn, who lost to Bennet in 2016. That PAC spent $1.3 million supporting Glenn that year.
Incumbent Colorado Sens. Mark Udall, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, began airing TV ads in their failed re-election bids in spring of 2014 and 2020, respectively.
Outside groups also advertised earlier in past election cycles. Nonprofit groups that don’t report their donors began airing ads critical of Gardner in fall 2019. Similar groups on the Republican side aired ads critical of former Gov. John Hickenlooper starting in March 2020.
Hickenlooper spent more than $16 million on TV advertising in 2020, while Gardner spent $12 million. Outside groups spent nearly $36 million on TV ads that year.
While Bennet’s campaign isn’t taking money from companies with their own political action committees, it does take money from PACs operated by business associations, including the National Association of Realtors, the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, and the Wine and Beer Wholesalers of America.
Union PACs representing teachers, public employees, postal workers and construction trades have also donated to Bennet’s campaign.
In fact, the campaign has received nearly $900,000 from PACs, including from leadership PACs, which are run by other lawmakers and that take money from corporate PACs.