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Politics and Government

Denver businessman becomes latest Republican to launch a bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet

Joe O’Dea hasn’t run for elected office before, but between his personal fortune and statewide connections he thinks he can win the crowded GOP primary and dislodge the Democratic incumbent

Joe O'Dea. (Handout)
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Denver businessman Joe O’Dea on Thursday jumped into the growing Republican primary field for Colorado’s 2022 U.S. Senate contest, banking on his statewide connections and an initial infusion from his personal fortune to dislodge Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet.

O’Dea is planning to launch a six-figure TV, radio and digital ad buy Monday that will run through October. The TV ads are set to run in the Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction television markets, according to O’Dea’s campaign. A Colorado Sun review of federal television ad filings, however, indicates the TV air time hasn’t been purchased yet.

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Though he hasn’t run for elected office before, campaign finance records indicate O’Dea has been involved in Colorado’s political arena for years. O’Dea has given to a number of candidates — both Republicans and Democrats.

Federal Election Commission data shows he donated $5,000 to Republican Cory Gardner’s unsuccessful 2020 U.S. Senate reelection campaign, as well as $250 to the Republican National Committee in 2018.

In 2014, O’Dea gave $500 to Democratic former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s reelection campaign. Before that, he gave to Democrat Cary Kennedy’s 2010 campaign for state treasurer and nearly $1,000 to Democratic former Gov. Bill Ritter’s campaign.

O’Dea even donated to Bennet’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. FEC records show he gave $500 to the Democrat on Jan. 19, 2010.

But O’Dea’s campaign argues the Michael Bennet of 2010 isn’t the same one in the Senate now.

In announcing his campaign, O’Dea accused Bennet of being beholden to the Democratic Party and not focused enough on Colorado. “Michael Bennet is the Democratic Party’s senator, not Colorado’s,” he said.

Two top Republican strategists are working for O’Dea’s campaign: Jefferson Thomas, who ran Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns in Colorado, and Josh Penry, a former state lawmaker. O’Dea spent the summer deciding whether to run. 

O’Dea and his wife, Celeste, are perhaps best known for their Mile High Station and Ironworks venues near the Interstate 25 and West Colfax Avenue interchange. O’Dea is also the owner of Concrete Express, a Denver-based construction company that employs more than 300 people. 

O’Dea is the seventh Republican to launch a campaign with the hopes of challenging Bennet in 2022. The Republican who wins the GOP nomination will have a difficult path to victory. President Joe Biden won Colorado by more than 13 percentage points in 2020 and Bennet has already won two U.S. Senate elections.

The Cook Political Report, a national elections prognosticator, says Colorado leans solidly in Bennet’s favor next year.


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