Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a low-key moderate who once ran for president, faces off against first-timer Joe O'Dea in a surprise battleground

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First-time Republican candidate Joe O'Dea, left, faces off against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, right.David Zalubowski/AP Photo; Susan Walsh/AP Photo; Insider
  • Sen. Michael Bennet is running against Republican Joe O'Dea in Colorado's US Senate race.

  • Colorado, which Joe Biden won by double digits in 2020, is an unexpected battleground.

  • An O'Dea win could help hand Republicans control of the currently 50-50 Senate.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado faces off against first-time Republican candidate Joe O'Dea in a surprise battleground.

Colorado's Senate race candidates

Bennet, who briefly ran for president in 2020, currently serves on several high-profile Senate committees, including the tax-writing Finance panel, Select Intelligence panel, and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry panel.

A moderate, Bennet lets fellow Democratic colleagues have it from time to time —  slamming centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia for blocking an extension of the monthly child tax credit payments wove into their 2021 pandemic relief package, and criticizing President Joe Biden this summer for not going bigger on the administration's student loan forgiveness plan.

O'Dea is a political newcomer that's perhaps most closely adhering to the MAGA-lite playbook fellow businessman Glenn Youngkin used to clinch Virginia's governor's race last fall.

Two ways O'Dea is seeking to differentiate himself from the Trump-backed candidates in other states: keeping the embattled former president away from Colorado, and staking out a less stringent position on abortion than Republicans who've used the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade reversal as a launchpad for a nationwide ban.

"As far as Trump's concerned, I hope he doesn't run," O'Dea said of who he'd like to see atop the presidential ticket in 2024.

No fan of the current president, O'Dea added that "seeing a Biden-Trump rematch again in 2024 would rip the country apart."

In terms of abortion, which is legal during any part of a pregnancy under Colorado law, O'Dea told supporters this June that he backs a ban on late-term abortions but leaves the rest of the decision-making to "a person and their god." An O'Dea aide told Insider that his current position is that O'Dea backs abortion rights in the early stages of pregnancy with limits after 20 weeks.

An O'Dea win would tip the balance of power to Republicans, ending the 50-50 split that's been in effect since January 2021.

Colorado's voting history

Bennet has held the seat since 2009, when he was first appointed to fill the vacancy left by then-Sen. Ken Salazar leaving Congress to join President Barack Obama's cabinet. Bennet won 48.1% of the vote when he ran in 2010 for his own term — less than 2 percentage points ahead of Republican challenger Ken Buck.

Bennet again won in 2016, but again, only with a plurality, capturing just under 50% of the vote — about 5 percentage points ahead of Republican challenger Darryl Glenn.

Joe Biden carried Colorado by 13 points in 2020, beating then-President Donald Trump there by more than 400,000 votes. The last time the Centennial State went for a Republican presidential candidate was in 2004.

The money race

According to OpenSecrets, Bennet has raised $20.8 million, spent $19.5 million, and has $3 million of cash on hand, as of October 19. His opponent, O'Dea, has raised $7.3 million, spent $6.8 million, and has $469,354 of cash still left to spend, as of October 19.

As of late October, several dozen super PACs, national party committees, politically active nonprofits, and other non-candidate groups had combined to spend about $29.8 million to advocate for or against candidates in this race, including during the race's primary phase. More than half of that outside spending was dedicated to campaigning against O'Dea.

What experts say

The race between Bennet and O'Dea was rated as "likely Democratic" by Inside Elections, "lean Democratic" by The Cook Political Report, and "likely Democratic" by Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

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