She’s The Only Republican Elected To Statewide Office In Colorado. Now She’s Running For Governor

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
University of Colorado Regent, Republican Heidi Ganahl, announces her candidacy fo governor outside Rosie’s Diner in Monument, near Colorado Springs, on Tuesday, September 14, 2021.

CU at-large regent Heidi Ganahl formally launched her gubernatorial bid today. Ganahl is the only Republican currently holding an elected statewide office in Colorado and she’s the most high profile GOP entrant in the race so far to face off against Democratic Gov. Jared Polis in 2022.

Ganahl kicked off her campaign with a speech at a diner in Monument, her hometown before beginning a week of barnstorming events around the state.

“We’re headed in the wrong direction. The cost of living is skyrocketing. Crime is rising beyond anything we’ve seen and our kids are struggling,” said Ganahl in a statement announcing her run. “I’m running for governor because I love this state and I’m proud to call it home. Our future is too important to sit on the sideline.”

If she gets her party's nomination for Governor, Ganahl would make history; Republicans have never nominated a woman for governor in Colorado before.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
With her family, University of Colorado Regent, Republican Heidi Ganahl, walks out of Rosie’s Diner in Monument, near Colorado Springs to announce her candidacy fo governor on Tuesday, September 14, 2021.

In 2016 Ganahl won a hotly contested race for a seat on the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents. At the time, her victory kept Republicans’ slim, 5-4, majority on the board. Since then, Democrats have won additional seats and now hold the majority.

“Democrats carried both the presidential and Senate races in Colorado that year,” said Republican political strategist Dick Wadhams and former state party GOP Chair. “But she won as a Republican against a very respected former house majority leader.”

Wadhams said he thinks Polis’ handling of the economy and COVID, which he considers poor, as well as President Joe Biden’s approval ratings will all play a large role in the race for governor, potentially giving Republicans an edge against the self-funded incumbent.

“Unlike 2020 and 2018, when there was definitely a Democrat advantage in the overall political environment, I think there's going to be a Republican advantage in 2022,” he said, “When you look at (past governors) like Bill Owens and Roy Romer and Dick Lamm, they were in very strong positions to run for reelection in their second term. I don't think Polis is anywhere close to that.” 

Democrat Gov. Jared Polis has the advantage

Still, if Ganahl is the nominee she's likely to have a tough race ahead of her — Colorado has trended blue in recent elections and Polis boasts a considerable personal fortune he is likely to use for his re-election bid. And Democrats are feeling confident in his chances.

“Colorado has a long history of re-electing incumbents,” said Alice Madden, the former state House majority leader who lost the regent’s race to Ganahl in 2016. “I just looked it up at the Rutgers Center for Governors and 10 of 13 governors since 1948 who were running for reelection won. So that's a 70 percent success rate in Colorado and Polis has strong approval numbers right now.”

Before getting into politics, Ganahl was a successful businesswoman — she founded Camp Bow Wow, a doggie daycare business that now has franchises across the country. She sold the company to animal hospital chain, VCA Inc. in 2014.

Despite holding statewide office, Ganahl doesn’t yet have widespread name recognition. Ten other Republicans have also filed paperwork to run, including former Parker mayor and director of the Colorado office of the Small Business Administration, Greg Lopez, who has raised the most money so far. 

Madden said she thinks the economy will dominate the race, “And everything else flows from there.” 

She also believes Polis will stand apart from Republicans on other issues. “In Colorado we, of course, have people who really care about the environment and climate change. There'll be a huge disparity among the candidates on that.”

As regent, Ganahl has focused on bringing more diversity of thought, and more conservative voices, to the state’s campuses.  

In a recent editorial in August in the Colorado Springs Gazette she blasted Polis and Democrats for passing policies that she said lead to “crime and chaos” overtaking the state.

“Is it too much to ask of our state leaders to protect our beautiful Capitol Building?” Ganahl wrote. “The streets of our biggest city? The neighborhoods our kids play in? The men and women we hire to protect us?”

Meanwhile Democrats were quick to attack Ganahl as part of the “far right fringe” of the GOP and sought to link her to former president Trump, former Senator Cory Gardner, and Rep. Lauren Boebert.

“Ganahl’s brand of far-right extremism threatens to move the state backward and is unequivocally wrong for Colorado,” said a statement from Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Noam Lee.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that neither major party had nominated a woman for governor in the state. However, Democrats chose Gail Schoettler as their nominee in 1998. The story has been corrected.