Jesse Paul and Elliott Wenzler - The Colorado Sun
Colorado voters overwhelmingly reelected Democratic Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday, endorsing his job performance over the past four years and soundly rejecting claims by his Republican opponent, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, that Polis had led the state wildly astray.
Polis was leading Ganahl with 61% of the vote to her 37% at 8 p.m., when The Associated Press called the race an hour after the polls closed. NBC News and Fox called the race for Polis even earlier.
“It has been the honor of my life to serve as your governor for the last four years and it will be an honor to continue to serve as your governor,” Polis said in a victory speech in downtown Denver. “I will never stop fighting for the future and the state that we love.”
Ganahl conceded in a written statement to the media at about 8:30 p.m.
“Tonight did not go the way we had hoped and prayed for,” she wrote. “Gov. Polis, I wish you well and my prayers will be with you. This election is over, but our problems are not.”
A spokeswoman for Polis said Ganahl called the governor on Tuesday night but that the two hadn’t connected.
Jared Polis hugs his husband Marlon Reis
Polis, who made a fortune building and selling companies during the dot-com era, spent about $13.5 million of his own money to win reelection this year. That’s only about half of the more than $23 million he spent to win his first term in 2018.
Ganahl, who before entering politics started and sold a doggy daycare chain, never kept up with Polis’ fundraising juggernaut. She raised about $4.1 million during her campaign, nearly half of which was self-funding.
Unlike Polis, she faced a primary, and had to spend heavily to win that race — in part because Democrats propped up her opponent, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez — before entering the general election contest low on cash. Ganahl then received little to no national aid in her bid to unseat Polis, and a group funded by Weld County rancher and oil gas booster Steve Wells that committed $11 million to help her candidacy stopped spending after it had allocated only about $3 million.
But campaign cash wasn’t Ganahl’s only problem. Her candidacy never really gained traction, as evidenced by the results of an internal poll she shared on Twitter about two weeks before Election Day showing her trailing Polis by 8 percentage points. She celebrated the large margin, saying it was small enough to close by Election Day.
There were political stumbles for Ganahl, the only statewide elected Republican currently in office, from the start.
On the day she announced her candidacy in September 2021, Ganahl faced criticism for refusing to answer questions from The Colorado Sun and other news outlets about whether the results of the 2020 presidential election were legitimate. After she finally admitted that she had seen no fraud that would have overturned the outcome of the contest, she chose a running mate, Danny Moore, who posted on Facebook that President Joe Biden won in 2020 because of the “Democrat steal.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl speaks at a news conference on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, where she unveiled her transportation plan. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
In the final days of her campaign, Ganahl then appeared on podcasts hosted by election conspiracy theorists, was endorsed by indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and sent a letter to Colorado’s county clerks asking them to report on election night the total number of ballots they’ve counted and how many remain to be counted before stopping tabulation until Wednesday. Clerks can only estimate how many ballots are left to count and aren’t required to report that information, though they traditionally do so when requested.
Meanwhile, Ganahl’s biggest policy proposals — eliminating Colorado’s income tax, cutting the state’s 22-cent-per-gallon gas tax in half, and a transportation plan hinging on voters approving the conversion of fees into taxes — drew lots of skepticism.
The Ganahl campaign’s unforced errors and fights with the media — “Don’t believe the polls. The media puts out fake polls. They want to suppress the vote,” she said at her final campaign rally Monday night — often shifted the conversation away from her criticism of Polis over kids’ mental health, inflation and crime, including car thefts and drug overdoses.
“Colorado is headed in the wrong direction,” Ganahl said during her first debate with Polis in Pueblo. “In the last four years Colorado has become one of the most dangerous states in the country to work, live and raise a family.”
The incumbent governor didn’t spend much of his campaign war chest attacking Ganahl in ads. Instead, he focused on promoting a message centered on his work to expand preschool and kindergarten access and limit health care costs, as well as questionable claims about saving people money.
But, a state-level super PAC aligned with Democrats, called Strong Colorado for All, spent $5.4 million on TV and digital ads attacking Ganahl on abortion access and other issues. Everytown for Gun Safety spent another $508,000 on anti-Ganahl ads.
Polis said during his final debate with Ganahl that while she was a “mad mom,” he was a “happy dad.”
“Coloradans have the opportunity to choose either an out-of-touch, extreme candidate for governor, who’s dead set on taking Colorado backwards, or we can choose a problem solver,” the governor said at the debate in Grand Junction. “I believe in taking the best ideas from the left, the right, the middle — from everywhere — to move Colorado forward.”
Bailey Johnson, a 25-year-old Democrat casting her ballot Tuesday in Denver, was excited to vote for Polis, the nation’s first openly gay governor. She said she especially likes his stance on same-sex marriage.
Keleb Parker, a 31-year-old from Westminster who is an unaffiliated voter, also cast a vote for Polis. He said he’s lived in Colorado for two years and he’s “liked what he’s done,” referring to Polis.
While there has been much speculation about Polis running for president — possibly as soon as 2024 — he has denied interest in the White House and said he wants to return to private life after his second and final term as governor, which will end in January 2027.
Colorado Sun staff writers Tatiana Flowers and Delaney Nelson contributed to this report.
This story is from The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned news outlet based in Denver and covering the state. For more, and to support The Colorado Sun, visit coloradosun.com. The Colorado Sun is a partner in the Colorado News Conservancy, owner of Colorado Community Media.