If you were one of the Republicans thinking about running for governor next year, and you look at Colorado’s electorate and at Gov. Jared Polis’ (D-CO) popularity — and his war chest — you might consider running for some other office
That’s what Republicans, including CU Regent Heidi Ganahl are thinking about doing, according to multiple sources, who say some Republicans see a more viable path to a statewide victory in one of the other constitutional offices, like Colorado Secretary of State or Colorado Treasurer, than in the governor’s race.
The assumption here is, Colorado voters will back Polis in 2022 and can be convinced to “split” their ticket and vote for Republicans in the lower profile statewide races.
Former U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) won repeated elections, for example, in a district that simultaneously handed victories to him and Democrats, like Hillary Clinton. He lost in 2018 to Democrat Jason Crow.
In 2020, 90% of GOP candidates in Colorado got more votes than Trump, allowing four Colorado House GOP candidates to win their seats, according to an analysis by Colorado Public Radio.
The four GOP victories occurred in Republican-leaning districts where GOP voters were likely the ones splitting their tickets. So, for next year, you can imagine a scenario where Republican voters in Douglas County, for example, might vote for Polis and Crow, but might be more easily persuaded to vote for Republicans down-ballot.
But political observers point out that not losing Republican voters doesn’t cut it for the GOP in Colorado, where Republican voters make up only 27% of the electorate, versus 30% for Democrats and 43% for unaffiliated voters.
In 2022 statewide races, with Democrats unlikely to vote for “down ballot” Republicans, it would require unaffiliated voters, who favor Democrats by a 60-40 margin, to put a check by the name of “Ganahl” instead of one of the incumbent Democrats, Attorney General Phil Weiser, Treasurer Dave Young, or Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
Any chance of this happening?
“Before Trump it was possible for a Republican like Mike Coffman to win over voters who were supporting Democrats at the top of the ticket,” said Democratic Pollster Andrew Baumann of the Global Strategy Group. “That ended when Donald Trump became president. Unaffiliated voters who don’t like Donald Trump aren’t inclined to open their hearts to Republicans at this point.”
GOP pollster David Flaherty says the Republicans’ chances of convincing unaffiliated voters to back Republicans in some races, while voting for Polis at the top of the ticket, hinge, “first and foremost,” on resources.
“I think it’s possible, but Heidi would have to have more resources to introduce herself to voters and make her case to voters than [the Democrat]–overwhelmingly, money-wise, like five-to-one or something,” said Flaherty. “If Heidi is unopposed in the primary, she can start that conversation earlier.”
Flaherty isn’t sure how anti-Trump sentiment will affect next year’s general election, but he says the activity of Republicans nationally is determining unaffiliated voters’ impression of Colorado’s Republican candidates.
Flaherty cited national GOP efforts to change abortion laws and restrict voting options as two issues that hurt the GOP among Colorado’s unaffiliated voters
“The local Republican in Colorado has to work extra hard, as usual, to say, ‘No, that is not me. Please give me another look. I don’t agree with those things. It’s not wasted time or effort but it’s just another thing on a to-do list for a candidate that doesn’t help you talk about the things you want to talk about and touch the voters you want to communicate with.”
Baumann says the profile of GOP leaders like U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Trump will make a difference.
“As long a Donald Trump and Lauren Boebert are the face of the Republican party, I think it ‘s going to be very difficult for any Republican to win statewide in Colorado, especially when Gov. Polis has such a strong standing unless there is a fundamental change in the national political environment,” said Baumann.
Ganahl and other GOP statewide hopefuls may have to navigate primaries and win over a base of voters who insist that Trump and Boebert should indeed be the face of the party. And even if they aren’t challenged, they still need to build name identification and keep core Republican activists excited, which appears impossible without embracing Trump. At least that’s what former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner apparently concluded.