DENVER — The 2022 primary is less than a week away. Republicans are hoping for a red wave to take back Congress. Depending on how strong that red wave really is, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s seat could be vulnerable in November.
If a Republican is able to beat Bennet, it would be the first time since Ben Nighthorse Campbell left the seat in 2004.
First, though, the Republican candidates who want to challenge Bennet need to get past one another. There are two Republicans on the ballot — businessman Joe O’Dea and state Rep. Ron Hanks.
O’Dea sat down with Denver7 for an interview to talk about his candidacy. Hanks has not.
Who is Joe O’Dea?
O’Dea has owned his own construction company for 34 years. He was given up for adoption at birth and raised by a Denver police officer.
He attended Colorado State University, but dropped out to start his constriction business in his basement. It now employs more than 300 people.
O’Dea has never been elected to political office, but has promised to bring his business background and ability to work with those he disagrees with to find a compromise.
“I'm not a career politician. People in Colorado are ready for something different," O'Dea said. "We've sent a lot of politicians to the Senate, we've sent a lot of politicians to different places, and they're not getting the job done. People want somebody with business experience."
O’Dea did settle a lawsuit last year with an employee who claimed age and disability discrimination. However, he refutes the employee’s claims and says he treat employees with the utmost respect.
“All those allegations are patently false. She left disgruntled, that's her prerogative. She didn't have to work at my company. She left of her own volition,” O’Dea said.
Who is Ron Hanks?
State Rep. Ron Hanks is a 32-year Air Force veteran and state legislator. He was elected in 2020 to represent House District 60, which covers Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties. He sits on the Energy and Environment, Appropriations, and Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services committees.
During his time in office, Hanks has introduced a total of six bills — constitutional carry of a handgun, one to repeal the ban on high-capacity magazines, a water storage tank grant program, an income tax credit for non-public education, a bill to require specialized paper for ballots and one that would require all voting to be done in person and for votes to be counted by hand within 24 hours of the election. None of those bills passed.
He has sponsored eight bills written by fellow Republicans in the state house. None of those passed.
Hanks co-sponsored one bipartisan bill last year to expand a peace officers mental health grant program, which passed. A bill he co-sponsored to put “In God We Trust” on a special license plate failed.
During his first two legislative sessions, Hanks made waves for saying the Three-fifths Compromise was not impugning anyone’s humanity.
Hanks has also been criticized for missing a number of votes in this year’s legislative session. He missed 57 of 104 committee votes, 31 of 297 appropriations votes and 91 of 523 final floor passage votes in the Colorado House of Representatives, according to Colorado Capitol Watch.
On election security
Hanks is perhaps best known for raising doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. He has repeatedly questioned the integrity of electronic voting systems, saying they are not secure because they are made in other countries.
“These systems are corrupted. We’ve got to get rid of them, and it doesn't really matter what the costs are. Our vote is the most important, most valuable thing we have. So damn the cost, it’s security and our sovereignty that matters here,” Hanks told Denver7 in an April interview.
In that same April interview, Hanks called John Eastman a top-tier, top-shelf lawyer. Eastman is the lawyer accused of trying to help former President Donald Trump overturn the election.
Hanks attended the January 6 rally in support of Trump in Washington, D.C., but says he did not enter the Capitol building.
He has supported Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who has been indicted on election tampering charges and spoke at the Election Truth Rally in April.
O’Dea, meanwhile, has said he accepts the results of the 2020 election.
“Biden's our president. I've said that day one I got into this race. He's a lousy president,” O’Dea said.
O’Dea says he supports mail-in voting and uses it to return his ballot. However, he believes there are ways election security could improve.
“There's a lot of things in Colorado that we can do to shore up the security around our voting system," O'Dea said. "Ballot harvesting should be made illegal, we need to do a better job with IDs, we need to do a better job with signature verification."
The two candidates also hold very different positions on abortion. Hanks believes life begins at the moment of conception without exception.
“Life begins at conception, and the government should protect it from that moment,” Hanks said at the Western Conservative Summit. “It's murder, and that is something that we have to decide where we are on that position. I'm firm on that.”
Hanks helped lead a 24-hour long filibuster on the Colorado House floor to try to prevent the passage of the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which codified abortion protections into state law.
O’Dea, on the other hand, is against late-term abortions and taxpayer funding of abortion services, and he supports parental notification. He does not, however, oppose all abortions.
“I don't believe in a total ban. I believe that decision is between a woman and her doctor and her god. I believe, also, that you can't mandate things, you can't mandate anything. So just because we mandate no abortions, if we were to do that, that doesn't mean they're going to go away. That means they're going to be done in a dark alley,” O’Dea said.
He also opposes the RHEA law, describing it as reckless.
On climate change
Climate change is another topic where the two candidates differ widely.
On his campaign website, Hanks has a video where he says, “I don’t want to sit here and pretend climate change is a real issue. It’s called weather, and they have used it as a level to control policy and to control conversation, and we have got to push back.”
He accused China of trying to emasculate the U.S. by using climate change to curb our power plants, which he said is hurting American manufacturing.
On the campaign trail, O’Dea has said man does play a role in climate change. However, in the interview with Denver7, he said, “There's no doubt that the climate is changing, everybody can agree that it is getting warmer. How much of it’s caused by man-made? How much of it's natural? I think there's a debate there still to be had.”
O’Dea says the transition to renewable energy needs to be gradual.
Hanks has been vocal about his support for gun rights on the campaign trail. On his campaign website, Hanks says he is an active gun club member, a concealed carry permit holder and an NRA certified one-mile long-range shooter.
Two of the six bills Hanks has introduced at the legislature dealt with guns. Both failed.
“I would not infringe on our Second Amendment rights with the crime rate going up as it is, with the other issues, the police being disempowered. We have to maintain our Second Amendment rights,” Hanks said at the Western Conservative Summit.
He also called for more money to be placed into securing Colorado schools.
O’Dea has also taken a pro-guns approach. The Colorado State Shooting Association has endorsed him. He says if someone is making threats online, they need to be held accountable.
“It's good to see that they're having conversations around mental health. I don't believe you can legislate against evil,” he said.
He is an advocate of putting more police officers into communities and schools. He’s also an advocate of allowing teachers to concealed carry.
O’Dea told Denver7 he doesn’t believe red flag laws have made a difference, and he’s not willing to support a law too close the so-called boyfriend loophole. Instead, he says people that make threats should be locked up.
On the Ukraine/ Russia war
Another area where the two candidates have differing views is the war in Ukraine. While both believe that President Joe Biden has not responded to the crisis correctly and blame his botched withdrawal from Afghanistan for showing Russia weakness, the two differ on how to move forward.
O’Dea says the U.S. should have moved some of its assets from Afghanistan to Ukraine as a deterrent and says the president has been asleep at the wheel.
“We should make sure that we give Ukrainians anything that they need so that we can make sure they can defend themselves, defend their freedom. Because if they don't stop [Putin] there, where does he stop?” O’Dea said.
While Hanks shares the sharp criticism of the handling of Ukraine, in a recent debate, he said the U. S. should not be selling weapons or providing financial aide to Ukraine because the U.S. needs to have a relationship with Russia in the future, and having our weapons kill Russian citizens won’t bode well for relations. He insisted, though, that there are other ways to get weapons into the country.
On border security
Both candidates have made border security a priority, saying they want to build the wall and stop traffickers and undocumented immigrants from crossing into the U.S. illegally.
On immigration, O’Dea says he supports a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers or people who were brought to the country illegally as children.
“They're here of no fault of their own. I think we should find a path to citizenship for them. You know, who's going to take them all home? And that doesn't make any sense at all. It's not going to happen, and their home is here,” O’Dea said.
For the rest of the undocumented immigrants currently living in the country, he says they need to get in line and go through the immigration process. He doesn’t agree with blanket immunity.
Ultimately, it will be up to voters to decide which of these two candidates should take on Bennet in the general election.