DENVER (AP) — Joe O’Dea stood before hundreds of social conservatives and spoke words they weren’t used to hearing from a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate: “I know that my position on abortion is not the same as yours.

O’Dea, a businessman who has spoken publicly about his support for abortion rights, told the crowd that he supports banning late-term abortions and government funding of abortions. But, he said, the decision to terminate a pregnancy in the early months is “between a person and their God.”

On other issues, O’Dea sounds like a typical conservative. He wants to reduce government regulation and expand oil and gas production, and he opposes gun restrictions. But his support for the right to abortion stands out in a Republican Party where opposition to the procedure has become a basic principle.

His main rival in Tuesday’s primary is State Representative Ron Hanks, who opposes abortion under all circumstances. The two are competing to take on Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who won his first Senate race in 2010 by hammering his GOP challenger on opposition to abortion rights.

Republican voter Carla Davis, who describes herself as ‘100% pro-life’, believes O’Dea will be a stronger candidate in the general election against Bennet in a state that has rejected moves to limit or ban the abortion four times since 2008.

“You have to concede little things to make things work,” said Davis, a 60-year-old marketing executive who recently attended an O’Dea event.

Still, if O’Dea wins the Republican primary, it will be partly due to a financial advantage rather than a strategic choice by GOP voters. He spent more than $600,000 of his own money on his Senate race, while Hanks’ campaign raised less than $60,000.

Hanks, who said he marched to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 but did not enter the building during the insurrection, said O’Dea’s views did not align with those of most Republican primary voters.

“His political positions would put him to the left of Mitt Romney,” Hanks said in an interview. “The message is not Republican, it is not conservative, it is not pro-life.”

Hanks got help from a Democratic group that sees him as an easier opponent for Bennet. The group has spent $800,000 on ads designed to tout its bid for the GOP primary, warning that it is “too conservative” to have backed a comprehensive ban on abortion and letting anyone carry guns. fire in public.

Conservatives fear something similar could happen if Hanks is the nominee. “Rather than talking about the economy, rather than talking about inflation, you will be talking about abortion,” said Mario Nicolais, a lawyer and activist who left the Republican Party in part because of the criticism he received. after supporting an election measure to ban abortion at 22 weeks — critics wanted a complete ban on abortion.

For Nicolais, it shows how rigid some Republicans are in their opposition to abortion rights, part of what has marginalized them in the state. The 22-week ban failed in the November 2020 election, just as voters rejected other moves to limit or ban abortion in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

Colorado in 1967 became the first state to relax restrictions on abortion, six years before the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade guaranteed abortion rights nationwide in 1973. That year, the Democratic-controlled legislature passed a law guaranteeing full access to abortion in the state, even the Supreme Court overturned Roe. A leaked draft opinion from the High Court says it could happen by the end of the court’s term this month, around the same time as Colorado’s Tuesday primary.

Bennet’s campaign cited the impending decision as a reason Colorado voters distrust the GOP.

“Both Republican candidates are too right wing for our state,” spokeswoman Georgina Beven said in a statement. rights in the US Senate.

If O’Dea were to be elected, he would join the senses. Maine’s Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski as the only Republican senators who publicly support Roe v. Wade.

Still, the state is home to a core of powerful abortion-rights opponents, including many religious groups alarmed at not having a like-minded candidate on the Senate ballot in the fall.

“The dignity of every person – born and unborn – should be unassailable and non-negotiable,” said Paul J. Batura, spokesman for the religious group Focus on the Family, which is not involved in the primary. “This November, Colorado residents and voters around the world deserve the opportunity to voice their pro-life beliefs at the ballot box.”

The largest conservative event in the state is the Western Conservative Summit, sponsored by Colorado Christian University. It was there, at a sprawling resort near Denver International Airport, that O’Dea received a polite greeting from the crowd, which was largely silent as he briefly discussed the ‘abortion. Hanks, who preceded him, was met with roars as he outlined his adamant stance on the issue.

“When we fight for life, we don’t fight for life once in a while, we fight for everything,” Hanks said. “Because everyone deserves a birthday.”

O’Dea attacked Hanks, a former Army intelligence officer who unsuccessfully ran for Congress from California in 2010. Hanks said he opposed abortion, but his campaign materials said that he held “a measured and narrow window for medical experts”. ‘Dea to accuse Hanks of having “the finger in the wind”. Hanks, in an interview, said he changed his stance because improvements in medical technology make it easier to save a mother’s life if complications arise.

But most of O’Dea’s speech did not involve abortion, an issue he says he has never heard from voters. Most voters, O’Dea said in an interview, worry about inflation and crime, two issues he relentlessly tackles on the campaign trail.

A political novice, O’Dea has donated to Democrats and Republicans in the past. He gave $500 to Bennet in 2010. O’Dea said he made most of his donations to Democrats when he chaired a construction industry organization that paid to attend fundraisers for campaign and that he will ask for his money on the debate stage.

O’Dea says he voted twice for Donald Trump but has no opinion on whether the former president should run again and said he loves Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential rival to Trump in the 2024 GOP primary. O’Dea said he supports Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, who are among the justices who appear to support Roe’s overturning, and sees no contradiction between this and his views on abortion.

“I don’t show up on social issues,” O’Dea said, “and people don’t talk about social issues, except for reporters and Ron Hanks.”

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