Heidi Ganahl wins Colorado Republican primary election for governor

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Heidi Ganahl reacts to learning she’s won the Colorado Republican Party’s primary election for governor, and talks to supporters at the Wide Open Saloon watch party in Sedalia, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. She will face incumbent Democratic Governor Jared Polis in the fall.

Heidi Ganahl has won the Republican nomination for governor of Colorado. Ganahl, a business founder and a University of Colorado Regent with strong links to the party establishment, held 53 percent of the primary vote as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, and the Associated Press has called the race.

Her opponent, bar owner and business consultant Greg Lopez, had 47 percent of the vote.

Ganahl was seen as the frontrunner early on, lining up support from influential Republicans, including former Gov. Bill Owens. She portrays herself as a “mom on a mission” who will get crime and the economy under control. She is the only Republican to win statewide office in recent years. 

In a victory speech, she quickly turned to defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Jared Polis — seen as a difficult task thanks to his high approval ratings and immense personal wealth.

“I want you to be happy warriors. I want you to go out and spread the message that we have big, bold ideas to solve the problems we are facing right now. And Colorado is ready for new leadership. We are ready for change,” Ganahl told supporters at a saloon in Sedalia.

“[Voters] want a governor who will trust them to make good decisions for their lives, their businesses, their families, their kids, their health.” she continued. “The only thing I will ever mandate as your governor is freedom.”

Lopez ran an outsider campaign about fighting “elitists” in both parties and embracing far-right causes. Lopez was the mayor of Parker for one term in the 1990s. He previously ran for governor in 2018, but placed third in the primary.

The end result remained in question in the final weeks. There was no public polling on the race, and the campaigns were relatively small.

Ganahl tried to focus her campaign on crime and the economy, while avoiding some of the ideas that animate most of the Republican Party. She refused to state her opinion on whether she thinks the 2020 national election was legitimate, saying only that “Joe Biden is the president.” Lopez has said the election was a fraud.

“I'm voting for Heidi because she has what it takes to beat [Gov. Jared Polis],” said Lexi Tehven, a Ganahl supporter from Douglas County. “She's honest. She knows about the real people […] and she's willing to compromise.”

Both Ganahl and Lopez oppose abortion rights. Ganahl would allow exceptions for abortion related to rape, incest and the mother’s health. Lopez would ban abortion with practically no exceptions.

Ganahl’s biggest campaign idea is to eliminate the income tax and slash the gas tax, which would reduce government revenue by about $10 billion a year.

Ganahl had a substantial fundraising advantage. As of the most recent filings, she had spent about $1.1 million. That was about eight times more than Lopez. But Lopez has likely benefited from outside spending. 

Outside groups, especially those aligned with Democrats, pumped more than $1.6 million into ads that largely portrayed Lopez as conservative and may have helped him win some right-wing primary voters. The groups’ apparent goal was to prop up Lopez, who is seen as a weaker challenger to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. Similar spending appeared in the U.S. Senate race.

In her victory speech Tuesday night, Ganahl said that Democrats’ “dirty tricks backfired.”

At his own event, Lopez conceded the race and called on his supporters to vote for Ganahl.