Colorado’s Polis faces feisty challenge in bid for 2nd term

Nov 8, 2022, 4:00 AM | Updated: 8:15 pm
FILE - Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference after unveiling his balance...

FILE - Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference after unveiling his balanced state budget proposal for fiscal year 2023-24 Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022. Polis, a Democrat, is seeking reelection in the Nov. 8, election. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER (AP) — In his campaign for a second term as Colorado’s governor, Democrat Jared Polis has had to fend off attacks by GOP challenger Heidi Ganahl on his pandemic record, surging crime and the fentanyl crisis.

Ganahl, who is trying to become Colorado’s first Republican governor since 2007, campaigned on the slogan “#MadMom” and tried painting an ominous portrait of the state heading into the midterm election. Polis countered by calling himself a “happy dad” of two kids who he is raising in what he called “the best state of all the states.”

Polis, a wealthy tech entrepreneur who’s largely self-funded his campaign, insists Colorado quickly emerged from the coronavirus shutdown poised for strong economic growth. He’s championed first-term successes in health care affordability, fully-funded kindergarten and preschool, and vows to continue his relentless pursuit to move Colorado’s electrical grid to renewable energy by 2040.

But Polis had to bolster those campaign points by highlighting his administration’s efforts to ease inflation’s burdens on Colorado families and address rampant car theft and other crimes that have soared in U.S. cities after the pandemic. He also came under withering criticism from Ganahl for opioid overdose rates that are taking their toll on Colorado’s children.

Polis countered by criticizing Ganahl for appointing a running mate who has claimed that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president in 2020.

Courtney Danis, a 20-year-old psychology student, said the main reason she voted for Polis is to protect abortion rights for all women — even though she long opposed abortion on a personal level. “I realized things can happen to people without them choosing it … and it’s important to at least have a choice in (having an abortion),” she said, citing the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade.

James Hampl, 47, an engineer and registered Democrat, said he was voting for Ganahl because he feels Colorado Democrats have moved too far to the left and given too much leeway to criminals. “(Democrats) are letting people get away with too much,” Hampl said as he voted in suburban Arvada. “We shouldn’t be far-right, and we shouldn’t be far-left.”

Ganahl, a business entrepreneur who as a University of Colorado regent is the only Republican statewide elected official, faced an uphill battle in a state that’s trended blue over the past decade thanks to an influx of college-educated residents in a growing metropolitan area where Democrats hold sway.

Seizing Republican campaign themes used across the country, Ganahl sought to hold Polis responsible for annual inflation surpassing 8%. She blamed Polis and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature for easing criminal penalties in laws signed before and after protests against George Floyd’s killing and racial injustice rocked Denver and other cities. A law signed this year leaving possession of one gram or less of deadly fentanyl a misdemeanor provided an easy opening for Ganahl’s attacks.

Ganahl said she’d eliminate Colorado’s income tax and cut state bureaucracy that’s grown under Polis. While Polis signed a new law codifying the right to abortion and vowed to protect non-Colorado residents seeking reproductive health care in the state, Ganahl, who opposes late-term abortions, vowed to put the issue to voters — despite the failure of several ballot measures to restrict or ban abortion in recent years.

About 7 in 10 Colorado voters say things in the country are heading in the wrong direction, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 2,700 voters in the state.

About three-quarters of voters say the condition of the economy is either not so good or poor, the survey found, compared with about a quarter who call it excellent or good. About a third say their family is falling behind financially.

The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe also played a role in most voters’ decisions, with about 8 in 10 calling it a factor in how they cast their ballot. About a quarter call the court’s overturning of Roe the single most important factor in their vote.

Ganahl often cited the pain of parents who’d lost their kids to drug overdoses or who are still struggling with the loss of learning and social isolation wrought by pandemic school closures. Advocating school choice, she insisted parents are shut out of what their kids are learning in the classroom.

But she ran into trouble by repeatedly citing a hoax, echoed by other Republican candidates, that schoolkids were dressing up as cats in the classroom as an expression of the trauma inflicted during the pandemic. Colorado news outlets repeatedly discredited the claims.

After much prodding from the media, Ganahl belatedly acknowledged that Democrat Joe Biden won the presidential election.

Polis countered Ganahl’s dark casting of Colorado in crisis by ridiculing her references to “furries” in schools and blamed inflation on global factors such as supply chain and energy market disruptions.

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Associated Press writers Sarah Rankin in Washington, D.C., and Jesse Bedayn in Arvada contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the elections at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

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