Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is running for reelection to his third six-year term in Congress. He’s being challenged by Joe O’Dea, a Republican first-time candidate who owns a Denver construction company.
Here’s what you need to know about Bennet and O’Dea:
Bennet, 57, was a managing director for the Anschutz Investment Company, which is owned and operated by the family of Republican billionaire Phil Anschutz, before becoming then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff. He was named superintendent of Denver Public Schools for about four years before being appointed in 2009 by then-Gov. Bill Ritter to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Ken Salazar.
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Bennet was elected to his first six-year term in the Senate in 2010, and then reelected in 2016. If Bennet is reelected in 2022 and serves his full term he will become the longest-serving U.S. senator in Colorado history in the century since voters — instead of legislatures — began electing senators. He lives in Denver.
O’Dea, 60, is a Colorado native who was adopted at birth. He graduated from Mullen High School in Denver before enrolling at Colorado State University. He dropped out of CSU and became a union carpenter before forming a construction company, Concrete Express Inc., which now employs about 300 people. He also owns Mile High Station, a popular event venue in downtown Denver. O’Dea’s 2022 U.S. Senate bid is his first run for elected office. He lives in Greenwood Village.
Both Bennet and O’Dea are wealthy.
Bennet’s assets total between $8 million and $31.7 million at the end of 2021, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of his personal financial disclosure. O’Dea’s assets total between $17.5 million and $77.4 million, according to his disclosure.
Bennet supports legislation prohibiting government restrictions on abortion access, including the federal Women’s Health Protection Act, according to his campaign.
When the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent guaranteeing a minimum level of abortion access across America, Bennet said the ruling “strips women of their individual liberty to make intensely personal decisions about their bodies and futures, and eviscerates their Constitutionally protected rights to freedom and equality.”
O’Dea has said he would back legislation in Congress codifying Roe v. Wade as long as it includes a ban on using tax dollars for abortions, a provision requiring parental consent for minors who seeking to end a pregnancy, and that there are provisions protecting religious institutions from being forced to carry out abortions.
He says abortions should be legal through 20 weeks of pregnancy and that after that threshold the procedure should be banned except for in cases of rape and incest and when a mother’s life is at risk or a fetus isn’t viable.
“Abortion is one of these issues tearing this country apart. We have to find a balance so we can start the long process of moving the country forward and give women certainty,” O’Dea told The Sun.
O’Dea voted for a 2020 ballot measure, Proposition 115, in Colorado that would have banned abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy except in certain situation when the life of a mother was at risk. He also signed a petition to get Proposition 115 on the ballot that year, which failed by nearly 20 percentage points.
O’Dea says people living in the U.S. illegally who are shielded from deportation under an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals should be granted citizenship. He also says there is no way to deport the estimated 11 million people living in America without authorization, though he hasn’t said if they should be granted legal status, only that a solution should be negotiated once the border is “secure.”
O’Dea often talks about the need to do more to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and he’s endorsed building a wall and hiring more federal agents to try to prevent unlawful border crossings.
“We need to close this border down and make sure it’s secure,” O’Dea told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s a national security issue.”
O’Dea also said on “Meet the Press” that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “were right to bring some visibility to this issue” by transporting migrants across the country to predominantly Democratic cities and states. “People call what (DeSantis) did cruel,” O’Dea said. “You know what’s cruel? Doing nothing.”
Bennet calls the U.S. immigration system “broken.” He was part of a bipartisan group of eight senators in 2013 who authored an unsuccessful immigration measure that would have created a pathway to citizenship for people living in the U.S. illegally and changed the nation’s work and student visa programs contingent upon millions in new spending on high-tech border security measures.
Bennet is a big supporter of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and has been pushing since 2017 for the passage of a bill creating a public health insurance option, which he calls Medicare-X.
Additionally, he has backed legislation that would outlaw surprise medical bills and cap out-of-pocket insulin prices at $35 a month.
Unlike other Republicans, O’Dea has said he would not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act in light of changes made to the law during the Trump administration, including the rollback of tax penalties for the uninsured.
O’Dea said “he strongly believes insurance companies should be required to cover people with preexisting conditions.”
O’Dea acknowledges climate change is real and that it’s caused by humans, but he told Denver7 “there’s a debate there still to be had” about how much humans contribute to the problem.
(The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations initiative, says “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land” and that “human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.” )
O’Dea thinks the U.S. will eventually move toward a renewable energy system but that it won’t happen anytime soon and that energy policies right now are “crushing working Americans,” including through high gas prices.
“We’re gonna move away from fossil fuels, (but) I don’t know that we’re going to do it in the next 100 years,” he said. “A lot of things are made with fossil fuels. If we are going to move away we have to create a system where we make sure that we have the energy available that we need before we move away from fossil fuels. We have to do it at a pace that allows demand to stay even with supply.”
He said he does not support green energy subsidies to help hasten the transition to renewable energy. “I believe the transition needs to happen through innovation,” he said. “It needs to happen through hard work, the (capitalistic) society that we have here in the United States. We need to get government out of our business.”
O’Dea has also said that the country needs to “get the oil and gas spigot turned back on here in the United States,” which he says will drive down energy costs. “You flood the market with more product, the price will go down.”
Bennet believes climate change is caused directly by humans and has worked on legislation to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. He’s also voted for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a long-stalled project that would carry oil from Canada across the U.S. to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. He’s also rebuffed the progressive Green New Deal framework aimed at combating climate change.
“Michael believes in a comprehensive approach to confronting climate change that includes common-sense actions to reduce climate pollution, advance clean energy, increase resiliency of local communities, and grow the economy,” Bennet’s campaign website says.
Recently, Bennet worked on and voted for the recently passed and signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which has been called the largest effort to combat climate change in human history. O’Dea has lambasted the measure as a bill that spends too much money in an untargeted way.
Additionally, Bennet successfully asked President Joe Biden to remove 225,000 acres along the Thompson Divide near Carbondale from being available for oil and gas leases and mining. The prohibition lasts 20 years.
Bennet told 9News that part of the reason Coloradans and Americans are facing the highest inflation in four decades is because the Federal Reserve kept interest rates too low for long during COVID-19 in an effort to keep the U.S. economic engine from stalling.
“It’s a global phenomenon,” Bennet told 9News of inflation. “The reason is because we’ve had this recovering economy out of COVID, we’ve got broken supply chains. We can bring those supply chains back. We can support the ones that we have.”
In a recent interview with CNN, Bennet conceded that it will take time for the Inflation Reduction Act to drive down costs.
“The elements of the Inflation Reduction Act aren’t going to kick in for a while,” he said. “The cap on drug prices for seniors and the requirement finally — we overcame pharma to have a requirement that Medicare negotiate drug prices on behalf of the American people. These are things that are going to take awhile to put in place.”
O’Dea says he will try to cut federal spending to combat inflation.
“We’ve got to end this frivolous spending that’s been going on from Washington for far too long,” O’Dea said. “We’ve got big government throwing a lot of money into our economy.”
He has said Congress should stop the spending of any unused federal COVID aid and boost oversight of the Federal Reserve, which he says has been “asleep at the wheel.”
O’Dea has advocated for tax reductions. He supports extending former President Donald Trump’s tax law, which lowered individual and corporate tax rates.
He’s criticized how the Inflation Reduction Act enacted a 15% minimum tax on corporations with over $1 billion in revenue, citing concerns about how it could affect manufacturers and affect consumer costs. He also opposes the measure’s increased funding for the Internal Revenue Service to help the agency bolster its staffing levels.
Bennet has described his record on tax policy as “more progressive than Bernie Sanders” and he has decried economic inequality.
“We have an economy where for years and years and years all the benefits go to the top 10%,” he said. “And the bottom 90% are struggling to pay for housing and health care and higher education and early education and drug and food prices and energy prices.”
One of his biggest policy platforms is permanently expanding the child tax credit. He was able to make the expansion happen for 2021 only as Democrats in Congress worked to help Americans weather the pandemic. Studies show it dramatically reduced childhood poverty.
The expanded tax credit gave parents of children up to age 17 between $3,000 and $3,600 in monthly installments if they are a single filer making less than $112,500, or joint filers making less than $150,000. The credit decreased by $50 for every $1,000 in income parents made over that threshold.
One area where Bennet and O’Dea’s approaches to politics and policy split is the U.S. Space Command headquarters, which is currently in Colorado Springs.
The Trump administration picked Huntsville, Alabama, over Colorado Springs for the agency’s home base in the final days of Trump’s presidency. The move was blasted by Democrats and Republicans alike as being politically based, and independent investigations into the headquarters decision have criticized the process. A final decision on the Space Command headquarters is expected in the coming weeks.
“Senator Bennet should step up and say, ‘President Biden, I’m not going to vote with you on this appointment, I’m not going to vote with you on this next bill until you give Colorado Space Command,’” O’Dea told Colorado Public Radio last week. “That would be a win for Colorado.”
O’Dea says he would block presidential nominees to try to persuade the Biden administration to keep the headquarters in Colorado.
“The last thing that Space Command needs is to be politicized,” Bennet told The Sun. “That’s exactly what Donald Trump did. I don’t want to politicize it. I want the administration to hear our argument, to understand our argument — and I think they do. I think we’ve made a compelling case.”
He said that if he were to further politicize the process he would simply create a back and forth with Alabama that wouldn’t be sustainable.
“I can’t guarantee success,” Bennet told 9News of his Space Command approach. “But I think it’s very likely we’re going to succeed.”