Former President Donald Trump ripped Colorado Republican Senate candidate Joe O’Dea on Monday as ballots began rolling out to every voter in the state.
“There’s this RINO character in the Great State of Colorado, Joe O’Dea, that is running against the incumbent Democrat for the United States Senate, who is having a good old time saying he wants to ‘distance’ himself from President Trump, and other slightly nasty things,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “MAGA doesn’t Vote for stupid people with big mouths. Good luck Joe!”
The morning statement wasn’t helpful to Republicans hoping for an upset in Colorado’s dark-horse Senate race where a win over Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet could be the pick-up that tips the balance of the upper chamber. Some among Twitter’s pundit class were aghast that the former president would urge voters to reject the Republican Senate nominee on the same day Coloradans began receiving ballots in the mail.
The statement, however, didn’t come unprovoked.
The question here is not, “Why would Trump publish a post to sabotage a Republican Senate campaign?” The question is, “Why would O’Dea deliberately antagonize his own base?”
Throughout the summer, O’Dea remained consistent on the Trump 2024 question by imploring the former president not to run again.
“I’m the only Senate candidate for the Republican Party that hasn’t been endorsed by Donald Trump,” O’Dea said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month. “Probably not going to send me a Christmas card. I don’t want to see him run again, I don’t want to see Joe Biden run again. I think that tears our country apart.”
O’Dea’s answer on the Trump question was antagonizing enough to the state’s Republicans who make up the base of O’Dea’s prospective voters, even if the construction executive ran a primary campaign on distancing himself from the former president. But on Sunday, O’Dea poked the bear by taking his opposition to Trump one step further with an interview on CNN, of all networks.
“I’m going to actively campaign against Donald Trump and make sure that we’ve got four or five really great Republicans right now,” O’Dea told CNN’s Dana Bash.
The Sunday statement drew the Monday response from Trump, who is known to punch back.
It’s true Colorado rejected Trump two elections in a row by wide margins. It’s also true that Trump remains the most popular Republican in the country leading in every single major 2024 presidential poll for the GOP nomination. Alienating supporters of his own party is no winning strategy for a Senate contest where the Republican nominee will need every vote he can get. Former Republican Sen. Cory Gardner lost his re-election bid two years ago by 9 points, and O’Dea has yet to lead a single general election poll in the entire contest, according to RealClearPolitics’ latest aggregate of surveys.
Colorado Republicans are not afraid to buck the party nominee either, especially when the nominee is seen as insufficiently conservative. O’Dea’s primary opponent, Ron Hanks, endorsed the libertarian candidate in the race, claiming the third-party pick is “the only conservative on the ballot.” O’Dea is running on a pro-abortion platform and backs a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. In conservative El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs where O’Dea will need to run up a high margin of victory, local Republican leaders have encouraged residents to vote their conscience over the lesser of two evils.
A smarter take for O’Dea seeking high office as a Republican in a blue state might have looked similar to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who engineered a 10-point flip in Virginia while courting both Trump supporters and ardent Never Trumpers. Youngkin made sure Trump supporters were spoken to but did not make the former president central to the campaign in an off-year contest. Trump gave Youngkin his support in the race, but the pair never appeared together on stage.
An alternative response for O’Dea on questions about Trump might have gone something like this:
Why are you asking me about an election two years from now? My focus is on my own race right in front of me with less than four weeks until Election Day, when Coloradans will decide whether they want an independent voice in Washington or another rubber stamp for Joe Biden, Michael Bennet, who has voted with this administration 98 percent of the time.
O’Dea chose to make a risky play instead by alienating the most popular politician among his own base. That decision will likely haunt him and Republicans such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hopes last-minute resources could swing the race and hand over the majority.