In Colorado, a Republican oddity: a candidate for abortion rights

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DENVER (AP) — Joe O’Dea stood before hundreds of social conservatives and spoke words they weren’t used to hearing from a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate: “I know my position on abortion is not the same as all of you.”

O’Dea, a businessman who has been public about his support for abortion rights, told the crowd that he supports a ban on late-term abortions and government funding of abortions. But, he said, the decision to terminate a pregnancy in the early months is “between a person and his God.”

On other issues, O’Dea sounds like the typical conservative. He wants to reduce government regulation and expand oil and gas production, and he opposes gun restrictions. But his support for abortion rights stands out in a Republican Party in which opposition to the procedure has become a bedrock principle.

His main rival in Tuesday’s primary is state Rep. Ron Hanks, who opposes abortion in all circumstances. The two are vying to take on Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who won his first Senate race in 2010 by criticizing his Republican rival for opposing abortion rights.

Republican voter Carla Davis, who describes herself as “100% pro-life,” believes O’Dea will be a stronger general election candidate against Bennet in a state that rejected initiatives to limit or ban abortion four times since 2008.

“You have to compromise on small things to make things work,” said Davis, a 60-year-old marketing executive who attended a recent O’Dea event.

Still, if O’Dea wins the Republican primary, it will be due in part to a financial advantage rather than a strategic choice by Republican voters. He has spent more than $600,000 of his own money on his Senate bid, while Hanks’ campaign has raised less than $60,000.

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Hanks, who said he marched to the US Capitol on Jan. 6 but did not enter the building during the uprising, said O’Dea’s views do not align with those of most Republican primary voters.

“His political positions would place him to the left of Mitt Romney,” Hanks said in an interview. “The message is not Republican, it is not conservative, it is not pro-life.”

Hanks has received help from a Democratic group that sees him as an easier opponent for Bennet. The group spent $800,000 on ads designed to promote his candidacy in the Republican primary, warning that he is “too conservative” to support an outright abortion ban and allow anyone to carry firearms in public.

Conservatives fear something similar could happen if Hanks is the candidate. “Instead of talking about the economy, instead of talking about inflation, he will talk about abortion,” said Mario Nicolais, a lawyer and activist who left the GOP in part because of criticism he received after endorsing a ballot measure. to ban abortions in 22 weeks: Critics wanted abortion outlawed altogether.

To Nicolais, that shows how rigid some Republicans are in their opposition to abortion rights, part of what has marginalized them in the state. The 22-week ban failed at the polls in November 2020, just as voters rejected other initiatives to limit or ban abortion in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

Colorado in 1967 became the first state to loosen abortion restrictions, six years before the US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade guaranteed abortion rights nationwide in 1973. This year, the Democrat-controlled legislature passed a law guaranteeing full access to abortion in the state, including the Supreme Court striking down Roe. A leaked high court draft opinion indicates that could happen by the time the court’s term ends this month, around the same time as Tuesday’s Colorado primary.

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Bennett’s campaign has cited that impending decision as a reason Colorado voters are wary of the GOP.

“Both Republican candidates are too far to the right for our state,” spokeswoman Georgina Beven said in a statement. “Coloradans have an even deeper sense of urgency now to elect pro-choice candidates this November, and Michael will always be committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights in the United States Senate.”

If elected, O’Dea would join Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski as the only Republican senators to publicly support Roe v. Wade.

Still, the state is home to a core group of strong opponents of abortion rights, including many religious groups alarmed at the prospect of not having a like-minded candidate on the Senate ballot in the fall.

“The dignity of every person, born and unborn, must be unquestioned and non-negotiable,” said Paul J. Batura, a spokesman for the religious group Focus on the Family, which is not participating in the primary. “In November, Coloradans and voters around the world deserve the opportunity to express their pro-life convictions at the polls.”

The largest conservative event in the state is the Western Conservative Summit, sponsored by Colorado Christian University. It was there, at a large resort near Denver International Airport, that O’Dea received a courteous reception from the crowd, which remained largely silent as she spoke briefly about abortion. Hanks, who preceded him, was greeted with roars as he described his unwavering stance on the issue.

“When we fight for life, we don’t fight for life sometimes, we fight for everything,” Hanks said. “Because everyone deserves a birthday.”

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O’Dea criticized Hanks, a former Army intelligence officer who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in California in 2010. Hanks said he opposed abortion, but his campaign literature said he had “a narrow, measured window for medical experts. That warning led O’Dea to accuse Hanks of “having his finger in the wind.” Hanks, in an interview, said he changed his position because improvements in medical technology make it easier to save a mother’s life in the event of complications.

But most of O’Dea’s speech did not involve abortion, an issue she says she never hears from voters. Most voters, O’Dea said in an interview, are worried about inflation and crime, two issues he has addressed relentlessly on the campaign trail.

A political novice, O’Dea has donated to both Democrats and Republicans in the past. He gave $500 to Bennett in 2010. O’Dea said he made most of his donations to Democrats when he chaired a construction industry organization that paid to attend campaign fundraisers and will ask for it back. your money on the debate stage.

O’Dea says he voted twice for Donald Trump but has no opinion on whether the former president should run again and said he liked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible Trump rival in the 2024 Republican primary. ‘Dea said she supported Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, who are among the justices who appear to support overturning Roe, and saw no contradiction between that and her views on abortion.

“I’m not running on social issues,” O’Dea said, “and people don’t talk about social issues, except reporters and Ron Hanks.”

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