Jul 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Colorado emerging as top Senate target for Republicans

Map of Colorado

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The GOP's path to a Senate majority could run through Colorado if other Trump-endorsed Republican candidates end up blowing winnable races.

What's happening: Construction company owner Joe O'Dea, the GOP's nominee against Sen. Michael Bennet, is a political unicorn for the party at a time when Republican voters prefer MAGA-aligned candidates.

In an interview, O'Dea called himself a pro-choice centrist who's running a campaign focused on tackling inflation and cracking down on crime.

  • "We need more moderate candidates," O'Dea told me. "We need candidates that can win in Colorado. If you’re so far to the right that you can’t win a purple state, that’s a non-starter."
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that contesting the Colorado Senate race is a critical part of the GOP's path to a 51-seat majority. At a fundraiser for O'Dea on Tuesday, he proclaimed: "I just want to assure everybody, we're going to be all-in in Colorado."

Between the lines: If Republicans can't win in Pennsylvania, Arizona or Georgia — battleground states where Republicans are worried about their candidates — they'll need to pick off a bluer state like Colorado.

Zoom out: During the primary, Democrats attempted to boost O'Dea's right-wing challenger Ron Hanks — viewing him as a more favorable general-election matchup.

Outside Democratic groups spent over $4 million on television ads casting O'Dea as a Democrat in disguise, citing his previous donations to former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Bennet along with his support for President Biden's bipartisan infrastructure package.

  • Democrats are now trying to hit O'Dea as being too conservative for Colorado, even as their earlier messaging argued the opposite.
  • While he's running as a pragmatist, O'Dea told Axios he's in favor of protecting gun rights in Colorado and would have voted against the bipartisan gun control and mental health funding bill that passed through Congress last month.
  • Democrats view that position as a political vulnerability. (A Colorado poll memo commissioned by a progressive group acknowledged "voters want action on gun violence, but also have concerns about Democrats going too far.")

The other side: Bennet went up with the first ad of his re-election campaign this week, touting his efforts to ban members of Congress from becoming lobbyists or making personal stock trades. He's trying to showcase his independence from Washington at a time when disillusioned voters are inclined to vote out the party in power.

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