The day after Republican U.S. Senate nominee Joe O’Dea said he’d “actively campaign against” Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential race, Trump lashed out at the candidate as a “RINO,” or Republican in name only.
O’Dea has frequently said he hopes the former president doesn’t seek the Republican nomination again, usually arguing that another Trump candidacy would be too divisive. But he doesn’t usually say he’d actively fight a Trump 2024 campaign. O’Dea named Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina as Republicans he’d like to see run for president.
“I’m going to do my job as a U.S. senator to make sure that they have good campaigns in the primary here to make sure that we have a good selection of candidates here in 2024,” O’Dea told CNN’s Dana Bash. None of the politicians O’Dea named have officially declared their candidacy for the White House, though they are widely rumored to be eying a run. Haley has endorsed O’Dea and Scott recently campaigned for him here.
On Monday morning, Trump posted on Truth Social that O’Dea is “this RINO character in the Great State of Colorado … who is having a good old time saying that he wants to ‘distance’ himself from President Trump, and other slightly nasty things.” Trump then highlighted his efforts as president on the economy, energy, and the war on the Islamic State and the border.
“MAGA doesn’t Vote for stupid people with big mouths. Good luck Joe!” Trump wrote.
O’Dea is challenging incumbent Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet for the seat. In a statement, O’Dea said this election should be about President “Joe Biden’s failures” — he cited inflation, crime, energy policy and the border — and “not a rehash of 2020.” But he reiterated that he’d prefer other candidates.
“President Trump is entitled to his opinion but I’m my own man and I’ll call it like I see it,” O’Dea said in the statement. “Another Biden, Trump election will tear this country apart. DeSantis, Scott, (former U.S. Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo or Haley would be better choices.”
Trump’s attack comes less than two weeks after O’Dea’s Republican rival for the nomination, state Rep. Ron Hanks, said he’d vote for libertarian U.S. Senate nominee Brian Peotter over O’Dea. Peotter is “the only conservative on the ballot,” Hanks wrote in an open letter he sent to his campaign mailing list.
“If there were a real Republican on the Colorado ballot for US Senate, I would support him or her,” Hanks wrote. “There isn’t. There is only a fake Republican, a pay-to-play opportunist with no conservative values or agenda.”
Hanks is a 2020 presidential election denier who proudly declared he was at the Jan. 6 protest, though not the storming of the U.S. Capitol that followed. He positioned himself as one of the staunchest conservatives in the state House of Representatives during his one term there.
Hanks won a spot on the GOP primary ballot at the state party’s assembly in April, and earned enough support from party faithful there that he cleared the field of all but O’Dea. O’Dea petitioned onto the ballot — a fact Hanks frequently used to castigate him as avoiding the state’s most dedicated Republicans.
Meanwhile, O’Dea has campaigned as someone who would buck his party if they were too hardline pushing things like a universal ban on abortions, though in alignment on things like lower taxes and less spending. His primary victory was hailed by other Colorado Republicans as returning the party to small government messaging — not conspiracy theories.
While O’Dea decisively won the primary election by nearly 9 percentage points, Hanks still pulled in 288,000 votes. Two of the last three U.S. Senate general elections, including Bennet’s 2016 re-election, were decided by slimmer margins than Hanks’ vote total. Just a chunk of his voters sitting out the race, or following his advice to vote third party, could prove decisive.
State Rep. Dave Williams, a Hanks ally in the state legislature and who unsuccessfully ran to the right of Congressman Doug Lamborn in the Republican primary, predicted just that would happen. Trump’s post “vindicated” Hanks’ criticism of O’Dea, Williams said, adding that it’s a “nail in the coffin” for his campaign, Williams said.
“By attacking Donald Trump the way O’Dea has, he just gives the middle finger to all those MAGA voters,” Williams, of Colorado Springs, said. “You can’t win an election unless you build coalitions.”
Instead, O’Dea is “trying to be all things to all people,” and coming across as inauthentic, Williams said. O’Dea’s nomination is indicative of a larger problem with the party ignoring its base, he said. Williams advocated for returning to a closed primary system where only Republicans can select Republican nominees.
“The Republican establishment loves to nominate people who give the best concession speeches,” Williams said. “They’d rather lose pretty than win.”
Colorado GOP spokesperson Joe Jackson responded that the party doesn’t pick candidates, voters do. And voters in the GOP primary picked candidates “focused on lowering the cost of living, making our state safer, and ensuring that our kids are getting the education they need,” Jackson said while painting Democrats as the “extreme candidates” in lockstep with President Joe Biden.
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