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Nicolais: Colorado U.S. Senate race of Bennet vs. O’Dea best in state?

Mario Nicolais
Colorado Sun
The Colorado Sun
Courtesy

Colorado’s U.S. Senate race is a bit of a yawner. Maybe not quite as bad as the Broncos 12-9 overtime field-goal-fest loss on Thursday night but still enough to induce weariness.

But, is it also the best race in the state?

Neither Sen. Michael Bennet nor Joe O’Dea are particularly charismatic. They do not exert the same gravitational pull on partisan activists as a bomb-thrower like U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert or trumpet a quirky geekdom that endears Gov. Jared Polis to voters.



Instead, the opposing candidates both present a quiet, thoughtful approach to politics focused on sound public policy rather than gathering clicks, followers, and viral moments. It might not be the path to adoration among ideological zealots, but it is better for governance and democracy.

For example, my enduring memory of Bennet’s 2020 presidential campaign came during one of the early debates. Still allowed on stage despite a campaign that envied anyone who could register even 1% in polls, he upstaged his party’s eventual presidential and vice-presidential nominees. 




While Joe Biden and Kamala Harris traded barbs over school busing policies, Bennet cut to the crux of the matter by discussing how inequal learning environments had been created through decades of redlining and gerrymandered school-district lines. He memorably declared, “equal is not equal.”

He earned a moment of admiration from national media before being quickly cast aside, so they could follow the horse race between leading contenders like Biden, Harris, and Pete Buttigieg. Every reporter knows that the dry debate around actual policy will never earn as many clicks as nasty nicknames.

Of course, that is exactly how we ended up with Pres. Donald Trump. Creating degrading nicknames for friends and foes, alike, is his chief political skill.

O’Dea, in contrast, seems genuinely considerate and collaborative by nature. He looks nearly as uncomfortable as Bennet engaging in even simple vitriol usually expected on the campaign trail. After a lifetime spent building a wildly successful business from the ground up, tearing other people down — even his political opponent — seems foreign to O’Dea.

Additionally, he is the type of center-right candidate who appeals to unaffiliated moderates. He has denounced The Big Lie and taken social positions for more appealing to the moderate political middle than the current prevailing sentiments in the GOP.

Despite the howls of progressive activists who would have us all believe otherwise, O’Dea eschews extremist views for more reasonable, compromise outcomes. He supports marriage equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community and opposed a ban on all abortions after 15 weeks.

His position on abortion — he would allow choice until 20 weeks and exceptions for rape, incest or health of the mother afterward — will never be enough for opponents who want to cast him as extreme and out of touch in order to beat him at the ballot box. Yet, his position certainly puts him in an adversarial position to most of his party.

Had he run 10 years ago, O’Dea is the kind of candidate who could have helped the Republican Party in Colorado avoid the death spiral it has found swirling around as they have lost race after race. Unfortunately, he is unlikely to overcome the damage done to the GOP brand in the intervening years. He currently trails Bennet by 8.3 points in the aggregate polling average used by RealClearPolitics.

Effectively, Colorado has two good options for the U.S. Senate. 

On Thursday, as the Broncos debacle slogged through an extra period, television analyst Kirk Herbstreit noted that, “Someone is going to have to win this game.” On Twitter, I responded, “too bad we have all already lost watching this drivel.”

In Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, it is the opposite. Someone is going to win this race, and, regardless who, Colorado will end up winning.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq. The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom.