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Joe O’Dea, Michael Bennet argue economics at Chamber of Commerce senate forum

Colorado’s U.S. Senate candidates jousted over business matters Wednesday with opposing messages: Less government interference from the challenger or a record of investment from the incumbent.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, pointed to the expansion of the child tax credit and a law that aims to re-home semiconductor manufacturing in the United States through the CHIPS Act.

Joe O’Dea, a Republican businessman, argued for fewer taxes — including making permanent the tax cuts signed by former President Donald Trump — and regulations. He also argued his self-proclaimed independent streak would give him leverage for pro-Colorado provisions in federal legislation.

The two made their case at a forum hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation. Bennet appeared via a pre-recorded interview with the moderator due to a late scheduling conflict with President Joe Biden’s visit to Camp Hale.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, left, answers questions from moderator Ed Sealover during video interview at a candidate forum held at the University of Denver on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

In making their cases, the two painted different pictures of the state of the U.S. economy. O’Dea called Biden “delusional” for not thinking the country is in a recession. Letting businesses operate — and a senator who would take aim at regulations he says stand in their way — would help bolster growth in a challenging time, he argued.

“We need to continue those tax cuts,” O’Dea said, referring to those signed into law by Trump. “That’s the only thing that’s going to help us grow this economy.”

He specifically argued for permitting reform and cited decade-long waits for major projects such as reservoirs. The permitting process shouldn’t be eliminated, he added, but the process needs a time limit.

Republican candidate for U.S. senate Joe O’Dea answers questions from moderator Ed Sealover of Denver Business Journal during a candidate forum held at the University of Denver on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

The technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth — a metric the United States checked in 2022. However, it’s a matter of debate among economists because typical effects of negative growth, such as widespread declines in consumer demand or rocketing unemployment, haven’t been felt.

Bennet acknowledged a “global challenge” with inflation. It’s spurred by global supply chain issues and enflamed by wild fluctuations in energy costs. He cited the dramatic lows during COVID-19 and new supply constraints stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And while he’s been a key vote for Democratic priorities in a tightly divided Senate, Bennet argued not all spending is the same. O’Dea has attacked Democrats broadly for spending initiatives he says supercharged inflation. Bennet specifically noted the expanded child tax credit as a boon for the country. He credited it with halving child poverty and cutting hunger in the country by a quarter. It expired last year.

“I believe any capitalist in America should think that’s a good idea,” Bennet said. “We are the richest country in the world — by far the richest country in the world — and we have the third highest rate of child poverty of any country in the world. That is not sustainable. ”

The race has drawn relatively little money from outside groups, even as national headlines speculate it could be a pickup for Republicans. The pro-O’Dea American Policy Fund, for example, has reported spending less than $4 million so far on the race.

For comparison, the Mitch McConnell-affiliated Senate Leadership Fund alone has spent more than $31 million in the race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat.

A recent Marist poll found Bennet holds a seven percentage point advantage over O’Dea with registered voters. According to the poll, 48% support or are inclined to support the incumbent Democrat versus 41% who back the Republican challenger. Nine percent say they’re undecided.

Among those who say they will definitely vote, 49% say they will vote for Bennet while 43% say they will vote for O’Dea.

However, a big chunk of voters, 30%, say they either never heard of Bennet or are unsure if they’d say they have favorable or unfavorable feelings about him. The pollsters highlighted that as a potential warning sign for a two-term U.S. Senator seeking his third. Otherwise, 39% say they have a favorable opinion of him and 31% say they have an unfavorable opinion of him.

O’Dea, meanwhile, is upside down with voters by that metric. According to the poll, 27% of voters have a favorable feeling about him versus 34% who hold an unfavorable opinion. About 38% are unsure how to feel about him.

Marist surveyed 1,127 registered Colorado voters on Oct. 3 through Oct. 6 and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.5 percentage points.

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