Rating change: O’Dea win means Colorado’s Bennet faces tougher race

Democrats failed in attempt to pick Bennet’s opponent

Construction company CEO Joe O'Dea speaks to supporters in Denver after winning the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Colorado on Tuesday.  (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post/Getty Images)
Construction company CEO Joe O'Dea speaks to supporters in Denver after winning the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Colorado on Tuesday. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post/Getty Images)
Posted June 29, 2022 at 11:56am

ANALYSIS — Many have tried to become the next Claire McCaskill. Most have failed.

The former Democratic senator from Missouri is credited with strategic advertising that convinced Republicans to nominate a flawed opponent in 2012. Candidates and party strategists on both sides of the aisle have tried to recreate that magic ever since. But most meddling efforts fall short, including this cycle in Colorado. 

Construction company owner Joe O’Dea won the GOP nomination on Tuesday, giving Republicans a credible challenger to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in a race that could break their way if the political environment continues to trend away from President Joe Biden’s Democrats. 

Democrats spent millions of dollars boosting state Rep. Ron Hanks in the primary because he would have been a weaker general election opponent. Hanks was on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021 and has a history of controversial remarks. So Hanks would have had difficulty appealing to independent voters necessary to win and GOP outside groups would not have seen him as a good investment when looking for races to target.

Not only did Democrats not pull Hanks across the finish line, but O’Dea looks more moderate after Democratic spending that painted Hanks as the true conservative in the GOP race. Bennet still starts the general election with the edge in a state Biden won by 13.5 points, and gets to run on a ticket with popular Gov. Jared Polis. 

But the Colorado Senate race is going to be competitive and we’re changing the rating from Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic. 

Republicans need a net gain of just one seat nationwide to reclaim the Senate majority. Even with O’Dea as the nominee, Colorado still sits behind Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, and New Hampshire on the list of GOP takeover opportunities. It’s ahead of Washington and other states.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.