State Rep. Ron Hanks and Joe O’Dea, a first-time candidate who owns a Denver construction company, are the two Republicans running in the June 28 primary for a chance to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in November.
The candidates have very different opinions on some key issues, including abortion, climate change and what Republicans’ strategy should be to beat Bennet.
The Colorado Sun spoke to the candidates, attended candidates forums and combed the public record to find six critical areas where Hanks and O’Dea are split.
Sign up here to get The Unaffiliated, our twice-weekly newsletter on Colorado politics and policy.
Each edition is filled with exclusive news, analysis and other behind-the-scenes information you won’t find anywhere else. Subscribe today to see what all the buzz is about.
With the U.S. Supreme Court poised in the coming weeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision protecting the right to an abortion without excessive government restriction, abortion is set to be a central issue in the midterm elections.
Hanks and O’Dea have very different stances on the topic.
“I don’t support a total ban,” O’Dea said at a recent debate. “The country is not 100% pro-life. The country is not 100% pro-choice.”
O’Dea has said he doesn’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and that he would support federal legislation codifying the precedent with some limits.
“I would vote for a bill that protects a woman’s right to choose early in the pregnancy,” he told conservative talk radio host Dan Caplis last month. “I would also protect that right in cases of rape, incest and medical necessities.”
He opposes “late-term abortions,” but hasn’t defined exactly what late term means except to say that he thinks abortions shouldn’t be allowed in the third trimester — or last three months — of a pregnancy.
“I do not support taxpayer funding for abortion,” O’Dea said. “I believe in parental notification requirements for minors.”
Hanks, meanwhile, says all abortions should be banned, regardless of whether the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or the mother’s life is at risk.
“I believe life starts at conception,” he said. “There should not be any exceptions.”
The outcome of the 2020 election
Hanks is among the loudest deniers of the 2020 presidential election results in Colorado, aligning himself with indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who is running to be Colorado’s secretary of state, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, one of the nation’s most high profile election deniers.
Hanks, who baselessly believes that President Donald Trump won the contest, attended the rally on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington that preceded the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“Trump won this,” Hanks said at a candidate forum a few months ago.
Hanks sponsored a bill in the Colorado legislature this year that would have overhauled the state’s election system, including by:
- Eliminating voting by mail, except for certain absentee voters
- Requiring that voting take place on election day
- Requiring voters to have a state-issued ID to receive a ballot
- Requiring that ballots be counted by hand and for election results to be provided within 24 hours of polls closing
O’Dea, meanwhile, rejects claims that the 2020 election was really won by Trump.
“I don’t believe the election was stolen,” he said at the same candidate forum.
Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Another notable area where Hanks and O’Dea differ is on the war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladamir Putin.
Hanks, a military veteran, said Putin “does not need to take the beating and the embarrassment that this regime is putting him through.” The “regime” he was apparently referring to was the Biden administration.
“At some point he can extract great pain against the United States — whether it’s a cyber attack, whether it’s blocking shipping lanes,” Hanks said. “Actually, (Putin’s) options are quite unlimited.”
Hanks said he thinks that Sweden and Finland should not be allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also known as NATO, right now because it may further upset Putin. Allowing the two countries to join later on would be better, Hanks said.
O’Dea called Putin a “punk” and said the U.S. shouldn’t “back down” from him, though he agreed with Hanks that American troops shouldn’t be sent to Ukraine right now.
“I would support Sweden and Finland in NATO as long as they pay their fair share,” O’Dea said. “For far too long we’ve had a lot of these NATO members that have shortchanged us. I think Trump did a good job saying ,‘You know what, it’s time for you guys to pay your fair share.’“
Hanks has suggested that climate change isn’t real.
“I don’t want to sit here and pretend climate change is a real issue,” he said at a candidate forum. “It’s called weather. And they have used it as a lever to control policy and to control conversation and we’ve got to push back.”
O’Dea said in a written statement that “the climate is getting warmer and humans contribute to that in some way.”
“But where Biden and Democrats get it wrong is with their top-down government mandates,” he said. “We must foster innovation and embrace an all-of-the-above energy policy that encourages natural gas production, solar and wind technologies, small, modular nuclear reactors, geothermal and hydropower. Begging despots and dictators for their oil, like Bennet and Biden want to do, is a losing energy policy when we have the resources to be energy independent here at home.”
Who should lead the Senate Republican caucus?
O’Dea hasn’t ruled out backing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to continue leading the Senate Republican caucus.
“It would depend on who (McConnell’s) running against,” O’Dea said.
Hanks said he would not support McConnell.
“He called everyone that went to Jan. 6 an insurrectionist, as did Michael Bennet,” Hanks said. “I’ve got no respect for him. Those were peaceful Americans that were concerned about their country.”
How to win in 2022
O’Dea and Hanks are split on how to beat Bennet in November, which will require a significant amount of support from unaffiliated voters, who make up 45% of the state’s electorate.
O’Dea said he plans to stick to the issues affecting Americans — namely rising consumer costs — and find middle ground where possible.
“I’m going to run this campaign against inflation, crime and $4 gas,” he said, “not social issues.”
Hanks thinks Republicans need to be more unyielding in their conservatism to win in Colorado.
“I think the Republican Party has lost its way and is not firm enough in its conviction,” he said. “I firmly believe if we have convictions and we tell people our beliefs and convince them we are going to stand by them they are going to come back to the party.”