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In this Thursday, June 9, 2022, photo, Joe O'Dea, a candidate for the Republican nomination to run against Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, talks during a campaign appearance at a brew pub in Littleton. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Two federal super PACs are each launching $2.5 million TV ad campaigns Friday attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea in the first major offensive this election cycle by outside groups against Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s opponent.

Giffords PAC, the national organization pushing for tougher gun regulations, is running ads attacking O’Dea on gun policy, while recently formed 53 Peaks is running ads crticizing O’Dea’s stance on abortion. The spending was first reported Friday morning in The Unaffiliated, The Colorado Sun’s politics and policy newsletter.

The groups are the first deep-pocketed organizations to launch major spending initiatives to help reelect Bennet, who, according to a new poll from Emerson College, holds a 10 percentage point advantage over O’Dea. 

The ads come days after a pro-O’Dea super PAC launched a new ad campaign attacking Bennet at a cost of at least $2 million.

Until this week national political spending groups have mostly remained on the sidelines in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, leaving it to the candidates themselves to duke it out on Coloradans’ television screens. Major partisan PACs, like the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, have still not weighed in on the race in a significant way, a sign the contest is not a priority for them.

The 30-second Giffords PAC ad, which hits the airwaves Friday, features scenes from the mass shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, an Aurora movie theater and a Boulder King Soopers and blasts O’Dea for opposing “common-sense” firearm reforms like “closing loopholes and keeping guns away from criminals.”

O’Dea opposed the bipartisan gun regulation bill passed by Congress earlier this year and signed into law by President Joe Biden. “We’ve got plenty of laws on the books already,” he said during a Colorado Sun primary debate in June.

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The congressional measure closed the so-called boyfriend loophole, which allowed people convicted of domestic abuse to keep their guns if they didn’t share a child with their victim or weren’t married to or living with that person. It also included a funding boost for the National Criminal Instant Background Check system. 

The ad’s narrator also calls O’Dea a “MAGA Republican” — as in “Make America Great Again,” the slogan used by former President Donald Trump. O’Dea, however, has repeatedly distanced himself from Trump and said he doesn’t want Trump to run again in 2024. (A spokeswoman for Giffords said the label referred solely to O’Dea’s position on gun policy.)

“Gun safety is one of the most important issues at stake in this election,” said Peter Ambler, executive director and cofounder of Giffords, which is named after former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a Democrat who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson.

Giffords held a campaign event with Bennet earlier this year. The group spent $1.25 million in Colorado helping elect Democrat John Hickenlooper to the U.S. Senate. It also spent $2 million in the state in 2018 to help elect U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Centennial, to his first term.

The O’Dea ad will air on broadcast, cable and digital platforms, according to Giffords.

The 53 Peaks ad features women saying they don’t trust O’Dea because of the stances he has taken on abortion, namely voting for a 2020 ballot measure in Colorado that would have outlawed nearly all abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy. (O’Dea says abortions should be allowed for any reason up until 20 weeks of pregnancy, after which the procedure should be allowed only in cases of rape and incest and when a mother’s life is at risk or the fetus is not viable.)

That ad also begins airing statewide on Friday.

The super PAC, which is registered to a UPS Store in Washington, D.C., was formed Aug. 20. Information about the group’s donors won’t be available until Oct. 15, the next federal campaign finance filing deadline. 

Both groups are airing ads through at least mid-October, based on contracts filed with the Federal Communications Commission. 

American Policy Fund, the pro-O’Dea super PAC, is spending $2 million in the two weeks before Oct. 4, with another $1 million worth of ad time reserved in mid-October. That super PAC has been funded by Colorado contractors and the oil and gas industry. O’Dea owns a Denver construction company.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is running joint TV ads with Bennet starting this week. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., recently donated $500,000 from his personal campaign account to the DSCC to fund the spots.

Outside spending reported to the Federal Election Commission through Friday morning totals only $1.2 million for the U.S. Senate contest, compared with $2.4 million in the 8th Congressional District. But super PACs have 48 hours after making independent expenditures to report them to the FEC.

New poll in Senate, gubernatorial races

A poll conducted by Emerson College and The Hill earlier this week showed Bennet with a major lead over O’Dea with less than a month before Colorado county clerks begin mailing ballots to voters. 

Forty-six percent of those polled said they would vote for Bennet while 36% said they would back O’Dea. Another 4% said they would vote for someone else and 14% said they were undecided.

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The poll was conducted Sept. 18-19 among 1,000 likely voters. It had a credibility interval, which is similar to a margin of error, of 3 percentage points. Emerson College has an A- pollster rating from FiveThirtyEight, the political and sports statistics news outlet. 

Other recent polls have shown the Senate race as being closer, but Bennet has led O’Dea in every publicly released survey. 

Fifty-two percent of those polled by Emerson College said they have a favorable view of Michael Bennet, while 34% said they have an unfavorable view of him. Thirty-six percent said they have a favorable opinion of him while 32% said they view him negatively. Thirteen percent of those polled said they’d never heard of O’Dea while 20% said they were unsure of how they felt about him, indicating the first-time candidate still has work to do in introducing himself to voters.

The Emerson College poll also asked participants about Colorado’s gubernatorial race, with 53% of those polled saying they would reelect Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and 36% saying they would vote for Republican Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent. Two percent of those polled said they would vote for another candidate and 9% said they were undecided. 

Fifty-six percent of those polled said they have a favorable view of Polis, while 40% have an unfavorable view of him. Thirty-six percent said they have a favorable view of Ganahl, while 36% said they have an unfavorable view of her.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette