DENVER — Coloradans gave Gov. Jared Polis a second term Tuesday, with the Democrat overcoming a challenge from Republican businesswoman Heidi Ganahl that never seemed to live up to the high hopes of party leaders.
NBC News called the Colorado gubernatorial race for Polis via Twitter at 7:21 pm MDT, shortly after polls closed in the state. The Associated Press called the race for Polis soon after. The governor declared victory at an election night watch party shortly before 8 p.m.
Polis tweeted late Tuesday that he was “honored” to be re-elected, adding: “As we plan for what’s next, we will draw from the lessons that got us to this outcome tonight. The fact is, we did something pretty simple: we focused on issues that affect people’s lives, and delivered real results. And there is more work to do. Whether you voted for me or not, know that I will always do my best every day to make Colorado an even more amazing place.”
Democratic incumbents also defeated Republican challengers in other contests for state executive offices, including attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer, each by a margin of roughly 10 percentage points in unofficial partial returns Wednesday afternoon. And Democrats held onto control of both houses of the state legislature, despite Republican hopes of flipping the state Senate.
The commanding election performance by Colorado Democrats — including Michael Bennet’s win of a third term in the U.S. Senate — had some state Republican leaders in despair and Democrats crowing.
"I just don’t think you can sugarcoat it. This was a devastating wipeout, almost across the board," Republican George Brauchler, a former candidate for attorney general, told Axios Colorado at a GOP election-night event.
"The Republicans are as lost a party in Colorado as I've ever seen,” Colorado House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, told Axios at his party’s celebration.
Polis, a multimillionaire entrepreneur and former congressman from Boulder, ran on a record of steering the state through the COVID crisis, and emphasized achieving all-day kindergarten, supporting abortion rights and saving Coloradans money, while Ganahl blamed the incumbent for “skyrocketing crime and inflation” and what she described as “bad drug policies, specifically around fentanyl.”
The founder of a dog-care chain, Ganahl is finishing a term as an at-large University of Colorado regent. In a state that has had a Republican governor only once in the last half-century, she was always seen as an underdog. Still, Ganahl’s primary victory over former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez — who had falsely claimed that Donald Trump won re-election in 2020 — raised hopes among some Republican strategists that she would be a center-right candidate who could appeal to unaffiliated Coloradans, the state’s largest voting bloc.
But then Ganahl, who has acknowledged that Joe Biden won in 2020, picked a running mate, Danny Moore, with a record of questioning that year’s election result. She opposes abortion rights with some exceptions in a state where polls show voters are strongly pro-choice. She complained that students across Colorado were “identifying as cats” at school and causing a disruption, a claim widely denied by school officials. She vowed to do away with the state income tax, but she never clearly explained how she would fund vital services without that revenue.
And while 53% of Coloradans disapprove of Biden’s performance as president, Ganahl was unsuccessful in her efforts to weigh down Polis by linking him to his fellow Democrat. A Marist Institute for Public Opinion survey last month showed 50% of Colorado adults had a favorable opinion of Polis, nearly twice the favorability rate for Ganahl. The same survey showed that, after months of campaigning by Ganahl, 42% of Coloradans either never heard of her or didn’t know enough about her to rate her.
Most polls of likely voters over the last month had Polis leading Ganahl by double digits percentagewise. As of early October, Polis had donated more than $11 million to his own re-election bid, while Ganahl gave about $400,000 to her campaign and loaned it another $850,000.
In other races for state executive positions:
- In the race for secretary of state, Colorado’s elections overseer, Democratic incumbent Jena Griswold defeated Republican Pam Anderson, a former Jefferson County clerk. Both candidates vouched for the integrity of Colorado elections, defending it from attacks by 2020 election deniers like indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, whom Anderson defeated in the primary.
- Anderson had the support of a spectrum of Colorado election officials, including some Democrats. Some of her supporters accused Griswold of taking an overly partisan approach to the job, while some Griswold backers blamed Anderson for campaigning with election deniers.
- State Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, prevailed over Republican John Kellner, the district attorney for Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, in his bid for a second term.
- Democratic state Treasurer Dave Peters won a second term by defeating Republican Lang Sias, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018.
MORE ON ELECTION 2022
- Live Election 2022 results
- Colorado Voices: What is democracy? We asked Coloradans ahead of Election 2022
- Rocky Mountain PBS: 'I don't miss an election:' How Coloradans who can't vote still engage in democracy
- Rocky Mountain PBS: First-time Colorado voters relish the opportunity to make their voice heard in Election 2022
Mark Harden is an editor and reporter who has worked with Rocky Mountain PBS, Colorado Community Media, Colorado Politics, The Denver Post, The Denver Business Journal and more. You can reach him here.