Sen. Bennet soundly defeats GOP challenger O’Dea to win reelection to third term
‘Colorado stands for our highest ideals,’ says incumbent Democrat in victory speech
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet speaks during an election night watch party for Colorado Democrats at The Art hotel in Denver on Nov. 8, 2022. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)
Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet appeared to have easily secured a third full term in the Senate on Tuesday night, a resounding win for Colorado Democrats that could mark a turning point for how the state’s electoral politics are perceived.
Bennet led Republican challenger Joe O’Dea 56% to 42% as of 9:30 p.m., according to unofficial results, completing a key defense of a Democratic-held seat as the party looks to maintain its razor-thin majority in the Senate.
“Now we know what I have always known, which is where Colorado stands,” Bennet said in a victory speech at Colorado Democrats’ election-night party at The Art hotel in Denver. “Colorado stands for our highest ideals. We stand for opportunity, we stand for democracy, for an economy that grows for everybody, not just the people at the very top. And that’s the future we can build together.”
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In a difficult midterm election year for Democrats, who faced more credible GOP challenges in states including Washington and New Hampshire, Bennet’s victory — combined with similar wins for incumbent Gov. Jared Polis and other statewide Democratic officials — means that Colorado is unlikely to be viewed as a genuine battleground state for the foreseeable future.
O’Dea, who hoped to pull off an upset victory by pitching himself to voters as a moderate who supported limited abortion rights and had publicly distanced himself from former President Donald Trump, called Bennet to concede roughly an hour after the polls closed.
“We are very disappointed in tonight’s results,” O’Dea said at a watch party hosted by the Colorado Republican Party in Greenwood Village. “It didn’t work out — not this time — but I don’t have any regrets at all.”
If Bennet serves the full six-year term to which he was elected Tuesday night, he’ll become the longest-serving U.S. senator in Colorado history. He was first appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. Bill Ritter in 2009 to fill out the remainder of former Sen. Ken Salazar’s term, then elected to a full six-year term in 2010.
He centered his campaign on his efforts to pass an expanded child tax credit, a one-year version of which was temporarily passed as part of a Democratic-backed COVID-19 relief package, but expired amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
“We are the richest country in the world, and we have the third-highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world,” Bennet said Tuesday night. “And I think that’s unacceptable. We have to change that.”
The son of a U.S. diplomat and an alumnus of an elite Washington, D.C. prep school, Bennet settled in Colorado in 1997, serving as then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff and later as superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
After his appointment, Republicans dubbed Bennet the “accidental senator,” a moniker he’s since often used to describe himself. He has rarely inspired much enthusiasm among the progressive Democratic base — least of all in an ignominious 2020 presidential bid that ended with a 10th-place finish in the New Hampshire primary — and his place within his party isn’t easily defined.
An institutionalist who expressed regret over Senate Democrats’ abolition of the judicial filibuster in 2013, he came to endorse even more sweeping changes to the rule last year, arguing that U.S. policymaking must become nimbler to compete on the global stage with “authoritarian governments like Russia and China.” A moderate who opposes sweeping progressive reforms like Medicare for All, he has championed in the enhanced child tax credit one of the country’s largest expansions of social welfare in more than 60 years.
In his speech, Bennet also touted Democrats’ passage of prescription drug price controls and landmark clean-energy policies in this year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
“We’ve done some really important things that we’ve been fighting for for a generation,” he said.
O’Dea, a first-time candidate and the CEO of a Denver-based civil construction firm, walked a tightrope during his campaign, hoping to appeal to moderate voters in an increasingly Democratic-leaning state without alienating the Trump-supporting GOP base.
He spent more than $4 million of his own fortune on his Senate bid, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. The self-funding allowed O’Dea to qualify for the June primary ballot via petition signatures, rather than through a state party assembly dominated by far-right activists.
State Rep. Ron Hanks of Cañon City, a prominent election conspiracy theorist, was the only GOP Senate candidate to qualify through the assembly. After a contentious head-to-head primary in which Hanks blasted O’Dea as soft on abortion, “election integrity” and other GOP issues, O’Dea emerged as the winner with 55% of the vote.
Democratic groups had spent millions on a controversial effort to boost Hanks’ profile and secure a weaker opponent for Bennet, prompting a triumphant O’Dea to bill the matchup as “the election Michael Bennet did not want.”
But he and his campaign struggled to appeal at once to both moderates and hardline conservatives. Despite affirming ahead of the primary vote that he would support Trump as the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee, O’Dea soon backtracked and promised to “actively” campaign against him in the Republican primary. After he suggested during the primary that a “reduction” in Social Security and Medicare would be necessary to tackle the national debt, O’Dea falsely claimed he had said no such thing.
Meanwhile, O’Dea’s disclosure that in 2020 he’d supported Proposition 115, a 22-week abortion ban that didn’t include exceptions for rape and incest, complicated his efforts to portray himself as a moderate on abortion rights. And his support for a September stunt in which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stranded dozens of migrants on the island of Martha’s Vineyard drew criticism from immigrants’ rights advocates.
Trump bashed O’Dea in an October message posted to his TruthSocial network, advising his supporters that “MAGA doesn’t Vote for stupid people with big mouths.” When DeSantis endorsed O’Dea a week later, Trump labeled it a “big mistake.”
‘We told the truth’
Celebrating an election night that saw Colorado Democrats triumph in a number of key races, Bennet told the crowd at the Democratic watch party it was time to “roll up our sleeves and go to work.”
Speaking at nearly the same moment across town, O’Dea said he’d called to congratulate Bennet and urged him to “use his seat for the good of this state.”
”I hope he’ll lean into his commitments that he made during the campaign, and work to move the nation forward out of this terrible rut of partisanship and gridlock,” said O’Dea. “The country is suffering, people are struggling, and our leaders need to elevate themselves to the great challenges of the day.”
Bennet vowed to oppose Republican plans to further roll back abortion rights and efforts by proponents of the “big lie” to delegitimize U.S. elections. He said the midterm results in Colorado showed a path towards embracing the country’s “highest ideals, not the worst impulses.”
“We won this campaign because we told the truth, from beginning to the end of this election,” Bennet said. “We said the same things in red parts of the state and blue parts of the state, in our primary and general election. We told the truth.”
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