As the US Senate race looks increasingly competitive, Michael Bennett and Joe O’Dea take to the campaign trail to win over Coloradans

His Republican opponent, first-time candidate Joe O’Dea, is running a strikingly different campaign than many other Republican Senate candidates across the country. He is emphasizing his moderate credentials, which include support for legal abortion up to 20 weeks and his desire for someone other than Donald Trump to be his party’s presidential candidate in 2024.

In 2010, another midterm in which a Democratic president helped boost Republican turnout, Bennett posted a 30,000-vote victory over Republican Ken Buck. In 2016, he led Republican Darryl Glenn by 6 points, with 50 percent of the total vote. And while Colorado’s demographics have trended bluer ever since, Bennett faces national headwinds; historically the party in power loses seats in the middle term.

“I think it will be a difficult cycle. I’ve said it all along,” Bennett said after a campaign event in Glenwood Springs. “I always run like I’m 20 points behind, and that’s what I’m doing now. That’s what this looks like.”

A statewide brainstorm, complete with tough questions

Bennett spent a good portion of the August congressional recess touring the entire state: Pueblo and Denver, Montrose and Ridgeway, Eage and Glenwood Springs, just to name a few of the communities where he spoke to people and tried to encourage them to vote in november. .

Along the way, he has received a lot of ears. The pain of inflation and fears for the economy remain top of mind for many, but Bennett fielded a variety of questions at his campaign events, from climate change and protecting public lands to immigration reform and the state of American democracy.

Bennett seems to enjoy the campaign – accepting more questions even as his staff tries to pass him on to the next event.

“I love this. This is the part of campaigning that you dream about,” he said, “the ability to be able to spend time in rural Colorado and urban Colorado, across the state campaigning, campaigning and campaigning. That’s what I’m going to do until this election is decided.”

Bennett’s message on the road focuses on the economy and the recent legislative victories that Democrats managed to pass the Senate 50-50: bipartisan efforts like the bills on infrastructure, gun safety, semiconductor manufacturing and postal reform, and party priorities such as the Inflation Reduction Law. and the American rescue plan.

“It’s just a record of achievement that we haven’t seen before in the last decade and it’s resonating with people,” Bennett said. “And people are showing up and they’re excited and feel like progress is finally being made.”

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20220823-BENNET-ODEA-CKCaitlyn Kim/CPR News
Republican US Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, center, watches as Senator Michael Bennett and supporters of a Windy Gap Reservoir water project congratulate each other at the opening ceremony. O’Dea’s company will do the work on the site, while Bennett got the federal government to fund about half of the project.

A different kind of challenger

Republican challenger O’Dea, however, is confident that political disenchantment and economic discontent could end the Democrats’ winning streak statewide. A self-made businessman with no government experience or legislative background, O’Dea delivers the message that he will put country above party, something in which he hammers his opponent.

“Bennett has been Biden’s rubber stamp since he came to that office,” O’Dea said at a GOP press conference in August, noting Bennet’s support for the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill known like the American Rescue Plan that was approved last April. “That has us at 9.1 percent inflation. Record gas prices, record crime here in Colorado, those are all things that are the responsibility of the Democratic policies that have been imposed on our state. And my goal is to change that.”

O’Dea’s campaign did not give CPR News access to any of her campaign events in August, despite repeated requests.

Both candidates were present at a groundbreaking ceremony for a project to reconnect the Colorado River at the Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County last month. Bennett lobbied the federal government to contribute about $14 million to the project, about half of its total cost. O’Dea’s company won the contract to do the work there.

More than one person thought it was a bit awkward to see the two men there, Bennet in the front row and his opponent in the audience, but O’Dea dismissed that idea, saying, “This is about the project, we have to move.” . Colorado ahead. We have projects like this on the other side of the finish line. Everybody wins.

Dissatisfied with Democrats, mistrust of Republicans

The polls on the Senate race are a little all over the place; a recent poll by a Republican firm found the two men tied, while one Democrat-aligned gave Bennet a double-digit lead.

Viola Eggert, a registered Republican in Jefferson County, is concerned about inflation, the border and crime and plans to cast her vote for O’Dea.

“Republicans are generally conservative. They are not in favor of higher taxes and hopefully most of them are pro-life,” he said. When asked what she thought of O’Dea’s support for keeping abortion legal up to 20 weeks, she said he agreed with it. “If he is the Republican candidate, I will support him.”

But O’Dea will also need unaffiliated voters, like Pueblo’s Frankie Martinez, to help him unseat Bennet.

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Martinez is concerned about rising costs, as well as access to abortion, and is unhappy with Biden’s tenure.

“I think the Democrats act weakly. I think the Republicans act like thugs. I like the middle ground,” she explained.

She did some research on O’Dea and likes her stance on fiscal responsibility, and he meets her litmus test in that he appears to support abortion rights and is not pro-Trump. A voter like Martinez should be an excellent opportunity for O’Dea. But from now on he plans to vote for Bennet. She mentioned O’Dea’s stance on guns, his concerns about climate change and, ultimately, that he believes the Democratic Party, more than the Republican Party, “puts people before profit.” “.

Still, it’s early in the campaign season and a lot can change between now and November 8.

20220823-BENNET-ODEA-CKCaitlyn Kim/CPR News
Democratic US Senator Michael Bennet answers questions from a group at a campaign rally in Eagle on August 24.

An uneven financial playing field

Bennet has a huge financial advantage in the race, with nearly 10 times more cash on hand than O’Dea based on the latest filing. And while the campaign arm of the GOP for Senate has put about a quarter of a million dollars into the race, it still pales in comparison to the millions the group has spent in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Georgia. (Though in August, the GOP’s campaign arm also cut ad spending in some of those states.)

But money might not be O’Dea’s biggest hurdle to winning; for some voters, it may just be the R after her name on the ballot.

“I used to be a Republican, because I was always strong on defense,” said Jeffery Smith, a Lakewood resident who recently changed his affiliation to a Democrat. “But no, I could never vote for a Republican again in my life.”

Smith’s discontent stems in large part from Donald Trump and the party’s continued support for the former president, who lost in Colorado by more than 13 points.

It was a hesitation that CPR News heard from numerous moderate Democrats and unaffiliated voters, that even if they want to give O’Dea in particular a shot, they are more concerned with boosting the party she belongs to.

The big question in Colorado’s Senate races may not be whether O’Dea can topple Bennet, but whether he can overcome concerns moderate voters have about the GOP.

One thing is for sure, Coloradans can expect to hear more from both candidates as Election Day approaches.

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