Column: He took on Trump and lost Colorado Senate race. But Republican Joe O’Dea kept his dignity

Colorado Republican Senate candidate Joe O'Dea, left, and former President Trump, right
Republican Joe O’Dea, left, suffered the wrath of former President Trump after calling out his lies about the 2020 election. “He’s got his opinion,” O’Dea said. “I got mine. I said what I said and that’s it.”
(Michael Ciaglo, Andrew Harnik / Getty Images, Associated Press)

The disappointment over Tuesday’s midterm election, which proved more red trickle than crimson tide, has had a spine-stiffening effect on Republicans.

Suddenly, they no longer cower in fear of the MAGAlomaniac ex-president or shrink from the petulant thunderbolts Donald Trump flings from his Mar-a-Lago bunker.

Shredding decency, inviting foreign interference in our elections, suborning insurrection: All those trespasses could be tolerated.


But not squandering a shot at winnable elections. Trump’s leaden political touch has cost Republicans control of the Senate, and many in the party are finally willing to state the obvious out loud. Trump is a loser, whose losing ways are hurting the GOP.

That’s a welcome turnabout. But give credit where due: Joe O’Dea took that stand before it was easy or popular with many of his fellow Republicans. He called out Trump on his 2020 “Big Lie” even while campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat in Colorado.

“We’ve become a nation of whiners and crybabies,” O’Dea said. “Donald Trump still can’t admit he lost.”

O’Dea was defeated on Tuesday, losing handily to incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet. But he can keep his chin high. O’Dea’s kept his honor intact — unlike, say, J.D. Vance.

The “Hillbilly Elegy” author and Ohio Senate candidate responded to Trump’s taunting — “J.D. is kissing my ass. Of course, he wants my support” — by keeping his lips firmly fixed in a puckered position.

Vance is going to Washington after fending off a strong challenge from Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan. Vance’s dignity, however, remains behind, last seen at a Trump rally in Youngstown.


In the midterm election, California swayed control of Congress and the last races added to Republicans’ margin of power. Here’s where House races stand.

Dec. 2, 2022

Speaking days after the election, O’Dea said it wasn’t all that hard taking on the former president, who responded to the Coloradan’s defeat with his typical effluent. (“Joe O’Dea lost BIG!” Trump wrote on his social media site, in his first reaction to Tuesday’s results. “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!”)

“He’s got his opinion,” O’Dea said. “I got mine. I said what I said and that’s it. I meant we need to move the country forward” rather than continuing to litigate the 2020 election.

“I don’t think,” O’Dea said. “That’s an outlandish statement.”

Back when visions of sugar-plum fairies and a comfy Senate majority danced in Republican heads, Colorado was one of the states they targeted.

The bookish Bennet, seeking a third term, hadn’t won previous campaigns by overwhelming margins. O’Dea, a fourth-generation Coloradan and the millionaire owner of a construction business, offered a certain regular-guy appeal.

He broke with Republicans by opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act — a hoary conservative hobby horse — and supporting abortion access “early in the pregnancy” and later in cases involving rape, incest or to save a woman’s life.

Principle aside, O’Dea’s stance toward Trump and refusal to embrace his fatuous election claims made good political sense. Trump lost Colorado to Joe Biden by a double-digit margin, 55% to 42%.

O’Dea’s primary victory over a Trump acolyte —
a state lawmaker who breached police lines at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — is what gave the GOP hopes for a November upset in the first place.

But Trump, whose sensitivity rivals that of the princess and her pea, couldn’t help himself.

In October, O’Dea went on CNN and chided Trump for not doing more on Jan. 6 to “keep the violence from heading toward the Capitol.” Worse, O’Dea said he would “actively campaign against” him if Trump chose to run again in 2024, as now seems likely.

The response was swift. “MAGA doesn’t vote for stupid people with big mouths,” Trump said, a statement that was not only puerile but self-evidently untrue.

O’Dea was on his way home from the office last week when he pulled into a parking lot in Greenwood Village, a Denver suburb, to discuss his Senate race and the wrath of Trump. He expressed no regrets about crossing the pouty ex-president.

The ‘Big Lie’ hanging over his neck” makes him “unpalatable to a whole lot of Coloradans,” said O’Dea, who noted that he twice voted for Trump but now believes it’s time for the country to move on.

“You talk to the average American here in Colorado, go down the street and say, ‘Do you want to see a Biden and Trump rematch in 2024?’ and they’ll tell you, ‘Hell, no. Let’s get something else done. Let’s get some people in there that want to move our country forward.’”

O’Dea said he received some blowback during the campaign from the Trump faithful, but “for the most part ... people were like, ‘Finally, someone is talking about what’s good for Colorado, good for America.’ I got a lot of that.”

A first-time candidate, O’Dea did not say whether he would again seek elected office.

But, like many, he lamented the reflexive partisanship and free-flowing invective that foul our political climate.

“I’d like to see things put in place that make the country better and make the country function. And so if you stay focused there, you have less of the partisanship (and) divisiveness. A lot of it’s been caused by both parties,” he said. “The name-calling. C’mon, really? Aren’t we adults?”

Democrats keep razor-thin control of the Senate after Catherine Cortez Masto defeats Republican Adam Laxalt to win a second term representing Nevada.

Nov. 13, 2022

It’s taken far too long for far too many blind-eyed Republicans to acknowledge Trump as the singularly damaging and dangerous political force he’s become.

The motive for owning up to the obvious — a letdown of a midterm election that left the GOP far short of expectations — is hardly selfless or pure-hearted. A different outcome and many would probably still be hitched to the pernicious Trump bandwagon.

So someone like O’Dea deserves commendation for having the guts to speak up when he did.

As we’ve sadly seen, the only thing necessary for Trumpism to fester is for good men, and women, to say nothing.