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Littwin: In debate between Senate hopefuls Ron Hanks and Joe O’Dea, it’s hardcore vs. softcore

The primary elections next week should tell us a lot about how far right and how Trumpist the Colorado Republican Party is today.

The headline from the Colorado Sun/CBS4 debate Monday night between Joe O’Dea and Ron Hanks was Hanks’ refusal to commit to accepting the results of next week’s GOP primary, which will choose either O’Dea or Hanks to run against incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Mike Littwin

But, of course, Hanks wouldn’t accept the results if he loses. Colorado is using the same mail-in voting rules and same voting machines in this election that it used in 2020. And if a centerpiece of Hanks’ campaign is that the 2020 election was rigged and that Donald Trump was the actual winner, then how could he discount the possibility that the Democrats, the Chinese or any of their fellow travelers might just hack the machines and tip the scales for O’Dea?

You don’t need me to tell you how crazy paranoid that is, but I’ll offer up two reasons anyway.

One, Democrats have actively been rooting for Hanks to win — even, uh, contributing to the cause — because they believe Hanks’ chances of winning a statewide election lie somewhere between that of, say, such former stars as Darryl Glenn and Dan Maes. And two, of the 1.5 billion or so people living in China, I’m guessing less than a dozen have any idea who Ron Hanks is. In fact, a dozen is probably on the high side, but whatever microscopic number applies, it’s probably similar to the number who have heard of O’Dea. Maybe what he’s saying is it wouldn’t be the Democrats or the Chinese stealing the election, but those darn RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).

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If Hanks wanted to make headlines from the debate, he could have said he would accept the election results, but then he wouldn’t be Ron Hanks. (He might be Loren Hanks, though — which is Ron Hanks’ given name — who, you might have heard, ran for Congress in 2010 in California, with a slightly more moderate take on the issues than he offers today. Let’s just say that O’Dea took every opportunity during the debate to call Hanks a flip-flopper.) 

I was more intrigued by the fact that Hanks wouldn’t answer the question of whether he voted for fellow election conspiracist Tina Peters in her primary race for secretary of state. He said he would keep his vote “private,” which means that he’s trying to put at least some space between Hanks-style craziness and the full-blown Tina Peters Experience, which includes, of course, a long list of criminal charges she’s facing.

I mean, Hanks did go to Washington to be a part of the fun on January 6, but he claims he didn’t participate in the riot and, to this point, no one has charged him.

But let’s face it, virtually every poll says a majority of Republicans actually believe in the Big Lie. Just a few days ago, the Texas Republican convention wrote in its platform that Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected.” Of course, that was only the beginning of the madness. It is Texas, after all. The platform also said it could “nullify” any same-sex marriage laws, that being gay is an “an abormal lifestyle choice,” that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 should be “repealed” and that it was time to end direct election of senators. Of course, they didn’t forget CRT or transgender transitioning or any of the other culture-war battles. Oh, and I almost forgot, the platform also calls for a referendum on whether Texas should secede from the Union — again. As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote of the secession proposal,  “Good Riddance.”

The right wing of the Colorado GOP probably can’t match that of Texas. Come on, it’s not like the whole state of Colorado once voted on whether to secede. It was just one part of Colorado that wanted to secede from the state, not from the Union. But the question that the Hanks-O’Dea race may answer is just how far right and how Trumpist Colorado Republicans remain.

O’Dea, who owns a construction business and is apparently quite rich, is a novice in the political game. And looking ahead to the general election in bluish Colorado, he’s trying to be as moderate as he can get away with. He says that though he’s personally pro-life, he believes that early-term abortion should be legal — if a list of caveats are included in the law — but that late-term abortion should not. He has refused in this debate and in all other forums to define when early-term ends and late-term begins.

Hanks, of course, is anti-abortion with no exceptions. 

O’Dea agreed with Hanks that Trump wasn’t to blame for the January 6 insurrection — I guess they’ve been too busy campaigning to keep up with the hearings — but believes that Trump could have acted sooner to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol.

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O’Dea will even go so far as to say he wouldn’t vote to repeal Obamacare, which prompted Hanks to say that O’Dea was more liberal than Mitt Romney, if you can imagine. And on and on it goes. O’Dea says he doesn’t support government subsidies for green energy. But Hanks, of course, is a climate change denier. Neither supports the proposed Senate gun-law compromise, but O’Dea uses words like “at this point.” O’Dea is worried about all the money going to Ukraine. Hanks is worried that people like O’Dea call Vladimir Putin a “thug.”

It’s Hanks consistently going hard core and O’Dea going, in Hanks’ words, the way of “soft” Republicans. 

Of course, the Trumpists of the world are hard-core anti-RINO, and you could start with Romney, although Trump, who naturally praised the Texas GOP platform, would probably start with die-hard conservative Liz Cheney. The definition of RINO these days is all about whether or not you side with Trump.

In the Missouri primary, you may have seen the bizarre ad from disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, who’s now running for Senate. In the ad, Greitens is leading a team dressed in tactical gear preparing to launch an assault on the house of a suspected RINO, of whom Greitens says, “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice.” The team breaks open the door, guns at the ready, and we hear these closing words from Greitens: “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”

This video comes after recent warnings about a rise in right-wing violence. The video came days before the testimony at Tuesday’s hearing of the shameful treatment of Georgia election workers Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, whose lives were shattered after being publicly slandered by Trump and Giuliani. The hearing was a searing indictment of the Big Lie and all those guilty of spreading it.

Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the January 6 committee and a confirmed anti-Trumpist, said, “There is violence in the future, I’m going to tell you. And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can’t expect any differently.” Kinzinger also released a letter that threatened violence to him and also his family.

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Meanwhile, in a January 6 committee hearing, the very conservative former judge, Michael Luttig, warned that Trump and his Trumpists are a “clear and present danger to American democracy.”

Democrats and some Republicans have slammed the Greitens video, which basically reinforces the whole January 6 concept of violent actions from the right. I wish someone had asked Hanks about the ad. You might remember that Hanks opened his campaign with an ad showing him using a supposed Dominion voting machine (it was actually just a copier) for target practice.

That ad would get huge cheers at any gathering of Colorado Republicans. Now we wait to see — and it’s still a mystery to me — how many votes it gets.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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