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Democrats put millions into Colorado's GOP primaries, and it backfired

Democrats spent $5.5 million on TV ads to prop up candidates they thought would be easier to beat later. The failed plan could now benefit the GOP.

DENVER — The Democratic meddling in the Colorado Republican primary may not have only backfired, but it may help the Republicans who won.

Democrats spent more than $5.5 million on political ads trying to amplify the super conservative candidates. At least $1.5 million was spent on political ads calling Greg Lopez too conservative to be the Republican nominee for Colorado governor. At least $4 million was spent on ads for U.S. Senate calling Ron Hanks too conservative and showcasing Joe O'Dea as a moderate.

"It was a clear attempt to hijack a primary and I think it backfired in a significant way," said Josh Penry, strategist for O'Dea's campaign.

Penry said that the $4 million spent in the U.S. Senate race made it a closer race than the campaign thought it would be.

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"It was effective. I mean, the primary was not competitive four weeks ago, and so they definitely succeeded in making the race more competitive, forcing us to spend more resources," said Penry.

"I think it's safe to say at this point that that strategy failed spectacularly," said former State Representative Rob Witwer. "It forced the O'Dea campaign to pivot to unaffiliated voters."

Witwer, now unaffiliated but previously a Republican state representative, wrote about this tactic following the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary. In his book with former 9NEWS political reporter Adam Schrager, The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (And Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), he wrote about Democratic money being spent to help Dan Maes defeat Scott McInnis in the 2010 Republican primary for governor.

Today, he sees the strategy as helping the candidate it was meant to hurt.

"They have defined him as the moderate in this race before the primary was even over, and it's going to be a problem for them going into November," said Witwer. "It's difficult to change strategy here and change course because the entire strategy in the Republican primary was to say Joe O'Dea is too moderate."

"Now we have a better idea of who Joe O'Dea is. He got a lot of earned media that he otherwise wouldn't have gotten," said election law attorney and Colorado Sun columnist Mario Nicolais.

Nicolais wrote a column saying it was a dangerous Democratic strategy to amplify the profile of conservative candidates that Democrats feel are easier to beat in November.

"…[T]he 2016 presidential election should have disabused anyone from playing such a game," he wrote in the column.

"I think Democrats thought they were going to use a little reverse psychology 101 and the Republican electorate was too smart for that," said Nicolais.

The ads that pointed out that O'Dea has previously donated to Democrats: Bennet and Sen. John Hickenlooper when he was governor, may now work to his advantage.

"They spent tons of money highlighting the fact that Joe had given to Hick and Bennet before and those are all things that will benefit Joe in the general election," said Penry.

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