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U.S. Sen. Rick Scott speaks at a GOP rally in Thornton on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican and head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, speaks at a GOP rally in Thornton on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

THORNTON — Two of former President Donald Trump’s biggest GOP allies traveled to Colorado on Sunday to campaign on behalf of Joe O’Dea, who recently became one of Trump’s most prominent intraparty enemies. 

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who is also chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel spoke carefully when answering questions about the apparent contradiction after a rally in Thornton. 

“I like Republicans,” Scott said, “and my job is to help Republican senators win their elections. And so I work with all Republicans. People have different views sometimes — different positions — because each of us represents the values of our state.”

McDaniel said all Republicans want the GOP to take back the Senate majority, including Trump.

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“We have to take back the Senate majority and the House majority,” she said, “and we’re gonna support every Republican that’s received the nomination from the people of their state.”

Colorado has become the latest — and arguably most unlikely — intraparty battleground over  Trump’s current and future role in the GOP. The former president lost in Colorado in 2020 to President Joe Biden by 13 percentage points. He also lost in 2016 to Hillary Clinton. Polling shows Trump remains deeply unpopular in the state. 

Trump lashed out at O’Dea last week after O’Dea said on national television that he would actively campaign against the former president should he run for reelection in 2024. “I don’t think Donald Trump should run again,” O’Dea said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Trump fired back, calling O’Dea, who is running to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Republican-in-name-only and saying in a post on his Truth Social social media site that “MAGA doesn’t Vote for stupid people with big mouths.”

Former President Donald Trump attacks Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea on his Truth Social social media website. (Screenshot)

Then on Sunday, news broke in The Washington Examiner, a conservative publication, that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican seen as a likely 2024 presidential candidate and Trump rival, endorsed O’Dea. 

DeSantis recorded a robocall for O’Dea, saying “I’ve watched Joe from a distance. And I’m impressed.”

Trump responded by posting on Truth Social that DeSantis had made “A BIG MISTAKE!”

O’Dea’s record on Trump, meanwhile, is a bit mixed. 

O’Dea has said he doesn’t want Trump to run for reelection in 2024, expressing support for other potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates, such as DeSantis, former U.N ambassador Nikki Haley, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who recently visited Colorado to campaign with O’Dea.

But O’Dea has also said he would vote for Trump if he is the GOP presidential nominee and that the former president doesn’t deserve blame for the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, though he “should have done more” to stop the violence.

In this Oct. 31, 2018, file photo President Donald Trump, center, talks with then-Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, left, and then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, after Trump arrived in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

“President Trump is entitled to his opinion,” O’Dea said in response to Trump’s offensive, “but I’m my own man and I’ll call it like I see it.”

If eliciting an attack from Trump wasn’t the strategy of O’Dea and his campaign, which has been running on an outsider message aimed at attracting the support of Colorado’s unaffiliated voters, they certainly had to know it was a likelihood. 

Trump is famously vindictive, so criticizing the former president on CNN presented the strong possibility of a response. O’Dea has also joked in the past that Trump probably won’t be sending him a Christmas card in a clear acknowledgement of that reality.

As to whether the Trump spat helps or hurts O’Dea, that remains up for debate.

At the very least, Trump’s attack further complicates Democrats’ attacks on O’Dea as a MAGA Republican — as in “make America great again,” Trump’s slogan — and it may add credibility to O’Dea’s claim that he’s not beholden to the GOP.

Democrats and some hard-line Republicans see it differently. They think O’Dea will lose his base without Trump and see the former president’s attack as a kiss of death.

“He needs every vote to win,” said state Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican who has criticized O’Dea and supported his GOP primary opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks. “I think MAGA voters were going to hold their nose and vote for Joe.” 

Now? Williams isn’t so sure.

Jenna Ellis, a Colorado lawyer and Trump ally who worked to help the former president overturn the results of the 2020 election, posted a video Tuesday on Twitter saying she wouldn’t be voting for O’Dea and criticizing McDaniel, the RNC chairwoman, for campaigning with him. “(McDaniel) should not have supported him,” Ellis wrote. “I don’t care that he’s the R nominee.”

Leading Bennet allies, who were quick to share the Trump attack last week, argued O’Dea hasn’t been able to consolidate the GOP base and now won’t be able to.

But polling shows O’Dea had strong support among Republicans before being attacked by Trump.

A poll by Data for Progress, a Democratic firm, conducted among 1,005 likely voters Oct. 3-6, found that 89% of Republicans would back O’Dea over Bennet, while 4% would back Bennet, 3% would back Libertarian Brian Peotter, 2% would vote for a third-party candidate and 2% were unsure. (Bennet had the support of 93% of the Democrats polled.)

A Marist poll of 1,221 Colorado adults Oct. 3-6 found that 90% of Republicans would vote for O’Dea, while 5% would vote for Bennet, 5% were undecided and 1% would vote for a third-party candidate. (Bennet again had the support of 93% of Democrats.)

Both of those polls also showed O’Dea trailing Bennet by wide margins.

Mark Smith, a Westminster resident at the Thornton rally Sunday who was wearing a red MAGA hat, spoke to O’Dea about Trump. 

“I know he’s not a big (Trump) supporter,” Smith told The Colorado Sun, adding that he’s already voted for O’Dea. “And I just asked him when he wins in two weeks if he would please support Trump when he runs again. And I think he will.”

Smith added: “I think the other Trump supporters are smart enough to see what needs to be done for this country, and that’s voting red.”

Scott won’t commit to spending more in Colorado

O’Dea hasn’t benefited from the kind of NRSC spending Republicans running in other U.S. Senate races have benefited from. And Scott wouldn’t commit Sunday to allocating more money in Colorado.

In Arizona, for instance, the NRSC has spent nearly $7 million opposing Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. In North Carolina, the group has spent $6 million. The NRSC has spent more than $3 million in each Georgia and Pennsylvania. 

The NRSC, by comparison, has spent just $241,000 in Colorado on O’Dea’s behalf, and that was in August.

“We spent money defining Bennet. We spent money on polling. We spent money on get-out-the-vote. We spent money on texting. Things like that,” Scott told The Sun.

When asked whether the NRSC would spend millions in Colorado in the next two weeks before Election Day, Scott said “we’re working to raise money every day.”The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has spent $1.25 million in Colorado on O’Dea’s behalf. That’s a fraction of the amount the group has allocated to races in other states.

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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...