What do we think of this?

I don’t mean, “Is it good politics?” Of course it is. Joe O’Dea is running in a state Biden won by 14 points in 2020, which is just blue enough to make a MAGA candidate unelectable but not quite so blue that a centrist Republican can’t win there in a huge red wave year. By distancing himself from Trump, O’Dea is engaged in basic good-sense brand-building in an inhospitable state. He’s positioning himself as a sort of independent to make swing voters who are leery of the GOP more comfortable with him.

Straightforward. What I’m wondering, though, is whether you-know-who can restrain himself from attacking O’Dea for it, knowing that it’ll hurt the party if he can’t. Trump calling O’Dea a RINO traitor might keep some MAGA voters home in November, tipping the election to Democrat Michael Bennet. Trump biting his tongue will improve the chances of an upset.

And with Mehmet Oz struggling in Pennsylvania (and J.D. Vance struggling in Ohio, surprisingly), Colorado could decide which party holds the Senate majority next year. If O’Dea can flip this seat, the odds of Republican control will soar.

My guess is that Trump *will* attack him eventually. He’d rather have a small party full of loyalists than a larger party that he can’t completely control.

Skip to 9:00 here for the key bit from O’Dea’s interview today with Ross Kaminsky, which begins with O’Dea calling Biden “senile” and the worst president we’ve ever had. He also praises Ron DeSantis and, uh, Nikki Haley. He’s not going full Liz Cheney, in other words. He’d just rather move on from Trump with the next nominee.

“As far as Trump’s concerned, I hope he doesn’t run,” Joe O’Dea said on the radio program. “I don’t want to see him as president.”

O’Dea continued: “I think a lot of people are ready to move our country forward. So I wouldn’t support him running again.”…

“There’s a lot of great talent out there. We need to move this country forward,” O’Dea said of the Republican figures, adding: “I think that seeing a Biden-Trump rematch again in 2024 would rip the country apart.”

O’Dea is the great normie exception this year to the drift towards MAGA candidates in GOP primaries, the latest chapter of which came Tuesday night in Arizona. O’Dea had a MAGA opponent in his own Senate primary and Democrats spent lavishly on that person in hopes of sending an easily beatable fringy populist to the general election in November. That strategy worked in Peter Meijer’s primary in Michigan a few days ago but it failed in Colorado as O’Dea went on to victory. He’s very much a centrist, “voicing support for a limited right to abortion early in pregnancy and for the bipartisan infrastructure law passed by Congress last year,” according to Colorado Newsonline. Essentially he’s running the GOP version of the Tim Ryan strategy in Ohio, tacking towards the middle in a solid blue state in hopes of ingratiating himself to that state’s majority. In liberal Colorado, “I don’t like Trump” is Messaging 101 for a Republican who aims to win statewide.

But even centrists have to pay *some* respect to the Great MAGA King in a GOP primary to have a chance at the nomination. And so, when he was asked about election integrity in Colorado in late June, O’Dea said this:

“We’ve got problems here in Colorado. Nobody will deny them,” O’Dea said. “One of the problems is that 50% of the people in this party and others believe that there’s a problem with our electorate — and they’re probably right. There are problems at every level.”

He was asked last month whether he blames Trump for January 6 (answer: “no, but…”) and whether he’d vote for him again in 2024. I certainly wouldn’t vote for Joe Biden, O’Dea replied, not really answering the question:

The lesson of Brian Kemp’s landslide in Georgia is that you *can* win a Republican primary even if Trump hates you. (If you’re an incumbent governor, at least.) It’s still very much in doubt, however, whether you can win higher office as a Republican if you hate Trump — or, in O’Dea’s case, if you simply prefer others to lead the party. He’s safely through his primary now, freeing him to tack towards the center, but how much disdain for Trump can he evince before MAGA voters start noticing and grumbling? That’s the mystery of this race.

I said it a few paragraphs ago but let me stress again here how potentially important Colorado is. Why? Because, as of this morning, the GOP’s lead in the generic ballot at RCP is down to … a tenth of a point:

Yesterday FiveThirtyEight had the generic ballot dead even. The shift at RCP is due to Republican-tilting Rasmussen detecting a big jump in support for Democrats lately. Two weeks ago Rasmussen had Republicans up 10; last week the lead was five; yesterday it was three.

“Today caps off the worst week yet for Republicans in the 2022 campaign cycle,” Matt Continetti wrote this morning. The return of Build Back Better, the Kansas abortion referendum, the nomination of crank candidates in states like Arizona — that’s a lot of bad vibes.

Meanwhile, according to FiveThirtyEight, the GOP nominee leads in only one of six key Senate races. The lucky Republican is Ted Budd in North Carolina. He’s ahead of Cheri Beasley by 1 point. The other Republicans are either close behind (Adam Laxalt in Nevada) or far gone (Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania). The GOP needs to net one seat to win Senate control. If the election were held at the time of writing, the party would lose three…

Here, then, is the Republican dilemma: The party’s Senate candidates are weak, it has no economic message beyond lamenting inflation, and its fear of the social issues leaves it exposed. “Without an answer to the left’s attack, Republicans in extremely winnable races will lose—and badly,” warned social conservative leader Frank Cannon, who urged Republicans to get behind laws banning abortions after the fetus has a heartbeat and after it is capable of feeling pain. “Now we are in the democratic era of the abortion debate,” Cannon went on. “Republican members of Congress can no longer act like the decision is out of their hands.”

Nor can Republicans act like the outcome of the 2022 election is predetermined. They may have thought that the Democratic majority would collapse under its own weight. They learned this week that it won’t.

Republicans could go on offense on abortion by following O’Dea’s lead and offering a compromise on early-term terminations, freeing the party up to attack Dems for radicalism on later-term procedures. But I think they’re too afraid of demoralizing pro-lifers so soon after the Dobbs decision if they do that. The best they can do is to ease up on the “no exceptions” bans and talk inflation, inflation, inflation until Election Day. It’s too late to nominate better candidates, but at least they’ve got one in O’Dea who’s viable — at least until Trump blows him up.

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