Documents provide details on Democrats’ efforts to influence Republican primary in Colorado

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron Hanks speaks at a Western Conservative Summit forum on Friday, June 3, 2022.

New federal campaign filings with the FEC reveal more about Democratic efforts to boost a far-right Republican U.S. Senate candidate ahead of Colorado’s primary in June.

The Senate Majority PAC, aligned with Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, was the only source of funding for Democratic Colorado, which paid for TV ads in the state. The unsuccessful effort sought to boost conservative state Rep. Ron Hanks over businessman Joe O’Dea in the Republican U.S. Senate primary. Despite the ads, O’Dea won the race by 9 points, and he is set to face incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet in the fall.

Democratic Colorado, also a super PAC, spent $4 million on TV and digital ads, including about $1 million in broadcast spots over six days in three major Colorado markets.

“What Democrats did was sleazy, deceitful and more likely than not criminal,” said Kyle Kohli, O’Dea’s communications director. “Joe O’Dea beat Schumer, [George] Soros, and Bennet in June. He’s going to do it again in November.”

A Super PAC associated with Soros donated $2.5 million to SMP on June 3. It was part of almost $29 million SMP raised in June 2022. Super PACs cannot legally coordinate with candidates, and previously Bennet told CPR News that Democratic Colorado was not affiliated with his campaign.

Republicans had accused Democrats of meddling in the primary. Democratic Colorado formed on June 2 and shut down in early July, right after the June 28 primary. 

“Democrats tried to use dirty tricks to defeat him in the primary, recognizing his strength and Michael Bennet’s weakness in Colorado,” said Sen. Rick Scott, head of the Senate GOP election arm, after O’Dea’s win. “They failed and in doing so, showed their hand. They’re worried.”

J.B. Poersch, president of the Senate Majority PAC, said they worked to weaken both GOP campaigns because they viewed both candidates as "flawed."

"Our efforts forced O’Dea to burn through cash, embrace Trump, and show his true colors as a rubber stamp for Mitch McConnell and a dangerous MAGA agenda that is totally out of step with the voters who will decide the general election in Colorado," Poersch said in a statement.

With Colorado trending blue in recent elections — and choosing Joe Biden by a 13 point margin — political observers noted that the more moderate O’Dea would likely be a stronger candidate against Bennet in November than Hanks, who campaigned on attacking the election system.

Looking to the fall, Bennet launched his first campaign ad this week, dropping $600,000 for ads to run over two weeks in Denver and Colorado Springs. The Democrat enters the general election race with almost 10 times as much cash on hand as O’Dea.

One strategy Bennet is employing is to link O’Dea to Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. A recent Bennet fundraising message points out that McConnell pledged to spend substantial sums to flip Colorado’s Senate seat — part of a Republican effort to take back control of the chamber. Axios reported that McConnell was at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for O’Dea Tuesday night and said, “We’re going to be all-in in Colorado,” and described O’Dea as “the perfect candidate for the nature of your state.”

The Cook Political Report, an independent election analysis firm, currently predicts a Democratic win in the Senate race.