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U.S. Republican Senate candidate Joe O’Dea speaks at a watch party with his wife, Celeste, on June 28, 2022, at Mile High Station in Denver. O’Dea defeated Rep. Ron Hanks, winning the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, and will face Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, in November. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

First-time candidate Joe O’Dea on Tuesday secured the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Colorado despite millions of dollars in Democratic spending to aid his primary opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks. 

The Associated Press projected O’Dea’s win at about 7:30 p.m.

O’Dea, who owns a Denver construction company, had 55% of the vote compared to the 45% of the vote that went to Hanks as of 2 a.m. Wednesday. Votes were still being counted, but it was clear that O’Dea had cruised to victory and will face Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in November.

“I won’t vote for the party line,” O’Dea said in a victory speech. “I’ll be more like a Republican Joe Manchin. I will always put America and Colorado first.”

Manchin is a Democratic U.S. senator from West Virginia who frequently bucks his party.

“Let there be no doubt: Colorado’s Senate race is going to be a referendum on Joe Biden’s policy and Michael Bennet’s rubber stamp,” O’Dea said. “America is struggling and moving in the wrong direction.”

Democratic Colorado, a Democratic political action committee, spent more than $4 million on TV ads during the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Colorado, including $1.6 million in the final days, to boost Hanks’ profile and attack O’Dea. Other Democratic groups also paid for mailers and text messages to increase Hanks’ chances of winning. 

Labor groups and the Colorado Democratic Party even held a news conference late last week to scrutinize O’Dea’s record as a business owner in what appeared to be a final attempt to sink his campaign during the primary.

All of that money and effort, however, didn’t work. O’Dea appeared to be headed toward a commanding victory in the race.

Democrats made it clear that they preferred to have Hanks face Bennet in the November general election because they saw O’Dea as a more formidable opponent. And in a primary election in which polling showed voters didn’t really know either candidate, there was a potential for the spending to make a big difference.

But O’Dea and a super PAC supporting him dropped about $1 million on TV ads in recent days to counter the Democratic spending and attack Hanks.

O’Dea is more moderate than Hanks. He has said abortions should be allowed early in a pregnancy and rejects claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. He also said the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, shouldn’t be repealed right now. 

Hanks is a 2020 election denier who attended the rally preceding the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. He said all abortions should be outlawed and attacked O’Dea as being a squishy conservative, especially since O’Dea has donated to Democratic candidates — including Bennet — in the past.

Hanks has not commented on his loss. He refused to say during a Colorado Sun/CBS4 debate earlier this month that he would accept the results of the Senate primary if he lost.

“We obviously have to see what we will see here,” he said.

Republican U.S. Senate candidates Ron Hanks, left, and Joe O’Dea discuss health care, abortion and election integrity during a debate on June 20, 2022, hosted by The Colorado Sun and CBS4. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Bennet will be tough for Republicans to beat in November. He has been a U.S. senator since 2009, when he was appointed to his seat by then-Gov. Bill Ritter, a fellow Democrat, to fill a vacancy left by then-Sen. Ken Salazar’s appointment as Secretary of the Interior. 

Democrats were already lining up their attacks against O’Dea on Tuesday night. Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called O’Dea a “self-serving millionaire.”

“His record is totally out of step with the voters who will decide Colorado’s general election, and they will decisively reject his campaign in November,” Burgwinkle said.

No Republican running for statewide office has won more than 45% of the vote since 2016. Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election prognosticator, says Colorado’s U.S. Senate race this year is likely tilting in Democrats’ favor despite the fact that the party is “staring down one of their worst political environments in nearly a decade.”

Colorado Sun correspondent Sandra Fish contributed to this report.