Give Joe O’Dea credit. He had played it all so smart. As a first-time candidate for public office, he had no record to be held against him, and therefore could fashion a platform that might work as a Republican in Colorado, running against Sen. Michael Bennet.
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That’s not to say that O’Dea had conveniently invented a new political persona when he decided to run, but only to say he had never had one before.
If you consider only recent times, there are at least two issues — besides the plain old demographics now clearly favoring Democrats in the state — that make it increasingly difficult for a Republican to win statewide office in Colorado.
One is the Big Lie. We know Republican politicians have to pretend to believe in the Big Lie — Trump’s entirely unsupported contention that the 2020 election was rigged — whether they actually believe it or not. There’s a reason GOP politicians have to fall in line. A majority of Republican voters, in Colorado and elsewhere, insists on it. And yet, in bluish states like Colorado, where Trump lost by 13 points in 2020, the Big Lie may help you win in a primary, but it won’t work in a statewide general election.
Secondly, there’s the Trump/McConnell rigging of the Supreme Court, which has given us a 6-3 ultraconservative court and, not incidentally, the shocking end (at least to Sen. Susan Collins) of Roe v. Wade. Colorado, of course, has consistently turned down referenda that would limit abortion rights.
So, in announcing his candidacy, O’Dea said he didn’t believe in the Big Lie — he could get away with that in the primary season in large part because his GOP opponent was state Rep. Ron Hanks, who was too far right even for Colorado Republicans. Hell, Hanks would be too far right if he were running in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary.
And O’Dea said that although he was personally anti-abortion, he didn’t think Roe v. Wade should be overturned and that the he would support abortion rights except in the case of late-term abortions. It took O’Dea many months to reveal what his definition of a late-term abortion was, and when he finally did, it turned out to be not all that late.
But by Republican standards, O’Dea’s call for supporting abortions up to 20 weeks, except in cases of rape, incest, risk to the life of the mother and viability of the fetus, when there would be no limit, was a fairly moderate stance. And yet, it’s not at all moderate by Colorado standards. And wide-scale criticism of O’Dea on abortion from Bennet and his supporters even led to O’Dea’s daughter cutting a campaign ad saying her dad favored abortion rights.
Then came the problem. It turned out that O’Dea had voted for Proposition 115 in 2020 —- not so long ago — that would have limited abortion to 22 weeks with no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal viablility, but only to save the life of the mother.
Then came another problem. Sen. Lindsey Graham put forward a national abortion standard that would limit abortions to the first 15 weeks, but also allow states to make laws that are even more severe. That would, of course, be a disaster in states like Colorado, which has no limitations, where women are trusted to make their own decisions when it comes to their own bodies.
And if that would become the Republican position, where would it leave a potential rookie GOP senator?
To his credit, O’Dea came out against the Graham bill, but only while also blaming Democrats, saying, “A Republican ban is as reckless and tone deaf as is Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer’s hostility to considering any compromise on late term abortion, parental notification or conscience protections for religious hospitals.”
And now comes an even bigger problem. Thanks to some expert digging by Sun reporter Jesse Paul, we have learned that not only did O’Dea vote for Prop 115, but that he signed a petition to get it on the ballot.
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Signing a petition is at least one decent-sized step beyond just voting for Prop 115, which was on the ballot before the Supreme Court had overturned Roe. And as you may remember, Prop 115, which drew its support from anti-abortion groups, lost by a 59-41 count. For you math challenged, that’s an 18-point margin, which is even greater than the 13 points Trump lost by in Colorado.
O’Dea now says his beliefs have changed since 2020. And while we often hear of religious epiphanies, it’s fair to be at least slightly more skeptical of political epiphanies.
I wrote a column a few weeks ago, following the introduction of the Graham bill, asking whether O’Dea being a relative moderate on abortion was good enough in Colorado, a leading state on abortion rights.
It seems the question needs to be asked again. And for O’Dea, it keeps getting harder to answer.
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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