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Joe O’Dea, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, debates at Grizzly Rose in Adams County on Saturday, May 21, 2022. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Joe O’Dea’s campaign for U.S. Senate is making a major push heading into the June 28 Republican primary, spending more than $300,000 on television and radio ads over the next three weeks as he begins attacking his GOP opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron Hanks, in earnest. 

O’Dea, a wealthy, self-funding first-time candidate who owns a Denver construction company, has also hired a campaign manager with experience working on political races across the country. 

“This nearly $325,000 tv and radio buy is the start of our June blitz,” said Zack Roday, the new campaign manager, whose resume includes a stint with former House Speaker Paul Ryan.  “We are ramping up our advertising and adding key staff to close out this primary strong.”

Hanks, by comparison, is operating on a shoestring budget. He had just $30,000 in his campaign account heading into April, compared to the more than $600,000 O’Dea had in his coffers.

Hanks has yet to buy TV ad time (he is planning to run radio ads soon) and he doesn’t have the same kind of paid campaign infrastructure that O’Dea has. Instead, Hanks is relying on a grassroots network of supporters and volunteers to win the primary, many of whom appear energized by his embrace of baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. 

State Rep. Ron Hanks, R-Cañon City, speaks during an “Election Truth Rally” on April 5, 2022, at the Colorado Capitol. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“He can spend all the money he wants,” Hanks told The Colorado Sun, “but he can’t move the people to a message they aren’t going to accept. He’s on the wrong side of the issues.”

MORE: Colorado’s June 28 primary will test just how much Republicans embrace 2020 election conspiracies

The two candidates’ uneven resources and disparate approaches will make for an interesting run up to the primary in a race that could help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. 

Will Republican primary voters back O’Dea with his deep pockets and more moderate approach, especially on issues like abortion? Or will they throw their support behind Hanks, with his low-budget campaign and who says the GOP must be more steadfast in its conservatism to win in November after several election cycles of defeat in Colorado?

Colorado Democrats have signaled that they think Hanks will be easier for their longtime incumbent, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, to beat in November. The Colorado Democratic Party, for instance, has labeled Hanks the frontrunner in the Republican primary race despite there being a dearth of polling. 

O’Dea’s campaign released an internal poll to The Colorado Sun last week showing that while Republican primary voters don’t know either candidate very well, they are more familiar with O’Dea and have a more favorable view of him. 

Fifty-nine percent of those polled said they had heard of O’Dea, with 34% saying they have a favorable view of him. Forty percent said they had heard of Hanks, with 15% saying they have a favorable view of him.

When asked who they would vote for if the primary were held today, 11% said definitely O’Dea, while 22% said probably O’Dea and 5% said they lean toward O’Dea, for a total of 38%. Four percent said definitely Hanks, while 9% said probably Hanks and 1% said they lean toward Hanks, for a total of 14%.

Forty-seven percent said they were completely undecided.

The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from May 15-20 among 400 Republican primary voters. It had a 6 percentage point margin of error.

Public Opinion Strategies has an A- pollster rating from FiveThirtyEight.

O’Dea, despite being a political upstart, made a bold prediction to Politico last month: “I’m going to beat (Hanks) by 10-15 points.”

Still, O’Dea, who is focusing his campaign on rising consumer costs and battling crime, is going on the offensive. Some of his ad spending in the coming weeks, which builds off of hundreds of thousands of dollars he’s already spent on TV and radio advertising, will be used to attack Hanks

“We’re running this primary with urgency until the polls close — like an underdog on a mission,” said Jefferson Thomas, who ran Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns in Colorado and is now serving as a senior political adviser to O’Dea.

Republican U.S. Senate candidates Joe O’Dea, left, and Ron Hanks. (Colorado Sun photos)

O’Dea also blasted Hanks at the Western Conservative Summit on Friday for changing his position on abortion. Hanks used to believe abortions should be allowed in certain limited circumstances, such as when the life of the mother is at risk, but now says he thinks the procedure should be totally banned. 

“Ron Hanks has his finger in the wind,” O’Dea said in a speech at the summit. “A Republican majority in the Senate is vital to the future of this country. We don’t need a flip-flopping politician.”

MORE: 6 big areas where the two Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Colorado disagree

O’Dea, meanwhile, has taken a more moderate stance on abortion, saying that he doesn’t think Roe v. Wade should be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. He believes abortions should be outlawed in the third trimester — last three months — of pregnancy and that government funding shouldn’t be used to pay for the procedure, but that the government generally shouldn’t otherwise “be in the middle of that decision.”

O’Dea appeared to acknowledge Friday how his stance could be problematic to the Republican primary electorate.

“I know my position on abortion isn’t the same as all of yours,” he said at the Western Conservative Summit, which is hosted by the fiercely anti-abortion Centennial Institute

And Hanks has criticized O’Dea for his abortion stance. 

“We don’t fight for life some of the time,” Hanks said in his speech at the Western Conservative Summit on Friday. 

Hanks brushed off O’Dea’s attacks and told The Sun that O’Dea “isn’t accountable to the people of this party” because of his stance on abortion and because he paid to collect signatures to get on the primary ballot as opposed to going through the caucus and assembly process, as Hanks did.

“If he’d gone to the assembly he wouldn’t be in this primary,” Hanks said.

Whoever wins on June 28 will go on to face Bennet in November. Colorado voters have backed Democrats by wide margins in statewide races over the past two election cycles, but with President Joe Biden’s approval ratings slipping in the Centennial State and across the country the GOP sees an opening. 

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet speaks to reporters alongside fellow elected and local officials during an event regarding new federal funding slated for Interstate 70’s Floyd Hill in Clear Creek County on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Democrats acknowledge that reelection for Bennet isn’t a given.

“It’s going to be a competitive race and we are not taking anything for granted,” said Nico Delgado, a spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party. “Colorado Democrats are confident that we can beat whoever turns out to be the Republican nominee.”

Both O’Dea and Hanks will have to spend heavily to win the primary. Bennet had $6.2 million in his campaign bank account to begin May and isn’t facing a primary challenger.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....