In Colorado Senate race, a Republican veers to the center of abortion

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In a year where Republican primary voters across America have taken a right turn toward former President Donald Trump, GOP voters in Colorado made a different choice on Tuesday – appointing a man to the Senate. relatively moderate businessman Joe O’Dea, who dismissed Trump’s claims. voter fraud, ruled out repeal of the Affordable Care Act and offered a limited embrace of abortion rights.

National Republican operatives believe O’Dea’s nomination could cause serious problems for incumbent Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) and potentially return what has been a Democratic-leaning state to purple territory — especially in a year in which President Biden and congressional Democrats face intense economic headwinds.

Race also represents a key battleground for abortion politics in the early post-deer Congressional election cycle – a state that Biden won by nearly 15 percentage points and which has always been strong supporters of reproductive rights where the Republican nominee is diligently seeking to defuse the issue and bring the public’s attention back to the economy, crime and other problems.

Colorado deniers rejected in favor of more moderate Republicans

Bennet, meanwhile, seems ready to bring the issue to the fore: “He will be a rubber stamp for Mitch McConnell’s agenda, including a nationwide ban on abortion,” Bennet posted on social media a few minutes after the Associated Press called the primary for O’ Narcotics Squad.

O’Dea has sketched out a nuanced position in recent debates and media appearances, saying he supports abortion rights “early in pregnancy” and exceptions if not for cases of rape and incest or to save the mother’s life. But he did not sketch out where exactly during gestation he would draw the line of legality, and he also expressed support for restricting government spending on abortions and requiring parental notification for minors.

The contrast might have been clearer if the Colorado Republicans had named O’Dea’s main challenger, State Senator Ron Hanks, who advocated for an unqualified ban on abortion, even for life. the mother. Democratic-affiliated groups spent about $10 million during the primary to elevate Hanks in the eyes of GOP primary voters, with some ads calling Hanks “too conservative” for Colorado.

But Republicans believe the publicity blitz may have had the unintended effect of bolstering O’Dea’s credibility as a moderate. In his victory speech on Tuesday night in Denver, O’Dea did not mention abortion rights, but introduced himself as ‘a Republican Joe Manchin’ – in reference to the nonconforming Democratic senator from West Virginia – who would “work with reasonable people on both sides of the aisle and resist extremes.

“I will vote my conscience, make tough choices, ruffle some feathers, and always put America and Colorado first,” he said. “No political party will own me.”

GOP state Rep. Colin Larson, an O’Dea supporter who describes himself as a “pragmatic” colleague, said the self-made construction mogul is the right candidate at the moment in a state that is increasingly frustrated with democratic governance at the national level. , national and local.

“You had a coalition of Republicans who are sick of losing — they want to win — and then you had a lot of these unaffiliated people who were really turned off by President Trump’s rhetoric,” he said. “But now that they’ve had two years of divorce with it…they’re like, ‘yeah, maybe we’re a little too far. We need a little more balance. ”

Larson, who personally opposes abortion rights, said he thinks O’Dea would be able to thread a political needle with his stance on abortion, even after Roe is gone: “You going to take that off the table for this race. That’s not where I’m at personally. I’m a pro-life legislator. But, you know, I’m happy to support Joe because, look, the reality is that this seems to be where the majority of Coloradans are.

Democrats note that the abortion issue has a rich and recent history in Colorado politics — including a hard-fought 2014 Senate race between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and GOP Representative Cory Gardner — a race that Udall sought to turn the war on women into a referendum on a Republican” war on women. Gardner himself sought to defuse the issue, moving away from earlier positions that included support for “personhood” efforts that sought to define life like starting at conception.

Gardner ultimately prevailed by less than 2 percentage points and, in his single term in the Senate, voted for all three of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees – who provided the decisive margin to overturn deer Last week.

Democrats insist that women in Colorado won’t forget the last Republican Senate candidate who tried to veer to the center on abortion rights, and they think it will be easy to argue that one can’t trust O’Dea on the issue in a state where voters less than two years ago overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative that would ban abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy except to save the life of the mother.

Laura K. Chapin, a Colorado-based Democratic political consultant, said she doesn’t expect history to repeat itself. “Part of what was at stake in 2014 was everybody was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no – deer will never be overthrown,” she said. “Well, it is, and Colorado is bearing the brunt of it.”

O’Dea said he would have voted to uphold the same judges Gardner voted to uphold, and he refused to endorse a Colorado state law guaranteeing abortion rights, as well as a bill bill in Congress that would codify into federal law the constitutional rights that the Supreme Court overturned last week.

Chapin, who consults for Cobalt, a Colorado-based abortion rights group that has endorsed Bennet, said the record would give Bennet and Democrats plenty of fuel to sow doubt in the minds of voters in About O’Dea: “I don’t really see how he gets away with saying he supports abortion rights when he supports the judges who overthrew Roe, [and opposes] the state law protecting the right to abortion and the federal law that would have codified Roe.

National Democrats are making a similar bet, and they’re already signaling that they’re willing to portray O’Dea as a stealth opponent of abortion rights despite his public statements to the contrary. If nothing else, they’re willing to argue, O’Dea’s election would also help restore a GOP Senate majority that worked for years to unseat Roe.

“At the end of the day, voters know that a vote for Joe O’Dea is a vote to hand over the Senate to Mitch McConnell and a Republican party that would ban abortion everywhere, and that is deeply out of step with voters. who decide the general election in Colorado,” said Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein.

Bennet’s campaign spokeswoman Georgina Beven said Bennet “believes that the decision a woman makes about her body is deeply personal and should only be decided between a woman and her doctor.”

“We can’t let the courts have the final say on this, and we need to elect pro-choice Democrats in November who will protect our constitutional freedoms,” she said.

Democrats signaled they were ready to fight O’Dea on other fronts as well, pointing to remarks where he suggested openness to cutting Medicare and Social Security, his opposition to new laws on gun control and his stated support for Trump should he win the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

Republicans, however, said they were more than comfortable taking the campaign to other ground. Senator Rick Scott, chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, praised O’Dea in a statement Tuesday in which he accused Bennet of “helping to spur inflation, gas price increases and a crisis in our southern border”. O’Dea, he said, “has an inspiring story, has built a successful business and will help get our economy and our country back on track.”

Nowhere in that statement, or in several others issued by Republican campaign organizations, was any mention made of her position on abortion.

“In my experience, abortion tends to be an issue that energizes people when everything else is going well,” Larson said. “You can really worry about abortion when your 401(k) is doing well, when your job is secure, when your checking account is empty. But that’s not the reality we’re in now.

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