Heidi Ganahl is running for governor. Her campaign let slip the move on September 10, and she officially announced a few days later. I figure if she really wanted my advice she could find my number. But I’m going to offer it anyway. This doubles as general advice for the Republican Party in Colorado.
My basic advice to Ganahl is: run like you’re going to lose. Because you are probably going to lose.
Consider this June 18 poll result from Magellan: “56% of Coloradans approve of how the Biden Administration is handling the pandemic, compared to 60% who approve of the job Governor Jared Polis is doing.” For what it’s worth, a recent partisan poll has Polis leading Ganahl by a daunting twenty points. Axios discusses the “GOP’s long odds to beat” Polis. Radio host Ross Kaminsky concedes she’s “a bit of an underdog.” Ganahl herself described a run against Polis as a “moonshot” (though people actually did walk on the moon). Sure, a lot can change during the course of a campaign, but Ganahl is starting at the base of a steep hill.
The good news is that running like she’s going to lose also happens to be the best strategy, or at least a good strategy, for possibly pulling off an upset victory.
Specifically, I recommend that Ganahl and the GOP limit the resources spent on her campaign and expand resources and good exposure for quality Republican candidates who have the best chance of winning legislative seats. Insofar as Ganahl publicizes herself, it should be to help local Republicans. In my view, if Ganahl makes any move not calculated to maximize the party’s chances to take back the Senate and cut into the House, she is making a mistake.
I think that if Ganahl runs that sort of team-spirited, strategic campaign, that will signal to voters that she’s thoughtful and not self-obsessed, which in the end voters might decide are pretty good qualities to have in a governor.
I also advise that Ganahl stay as far away as humanly possible from Lauren Boebert and her sycophants. Boebert is popular in her region but toxic statewide. Ganahl’s job is to try to convince suburban centrist voters that the Republican Party is not absolutely bat-guano crazy, admittedly a tough assignment given all the Republican shenanigans this year regarding the presidential election (paging Tina Peters), the pandemic and vaccines, and conspiracy lunacy of various flavors.
In normal circumstances in a wide-open race, Ganahl would be a very strong candidate. She won statewide election as University of Colorado Regent. She has a compelling personal story, having overcome the trauma of losing her first husband to an accident to found a successful business. More recently she went through brain surgery too. No one can say she isn’t a fighter. She comes across as a thoughtful, caring person.
But these are not normal circumstances, given the pandemic and the GOP’s internal problems, and Ganahl faces a popular and wealthy opponent. The blunt fact is that Polis, with his smarts, his own entrepreneurial successes, and a libertarian streak, fits the region pretty well.
Recently Arthur Laffer, who created the Laffer Curve and to whom Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, told Polis at a conservative event, “You’ve done an exceptionally good job” as governor. Indeed, if Polis had been blessed with a Republican Senate to block Democratic excesses, Polis probably would have gone down as one of Colorado’s more libertarian governors.
Ganahl’s most obvious opening is to try to tag Polis with the problems of the pandemic. But it will be pretty hard to convince centrist voters that Republicans, many of whom opposed masks and even vaccines, on the whole handled the pandemic more responsibly. And Ganahl will have a hard time blaming Polis both for bureaucratic restrictions and for the damage of the virus, given that there’s plausibly a tradeoff between the two.
As of mid-September, Statista showed that Colorado ranked eleventh best (least-bad) in terms of death rates from the virus per capita. Colorado had 126 deaths per 100,000 people, not as good as Vermont at 46, but better than California at 170, Texas at 208, New Mexico at 220, New York at 281, and New Jersey at 305. The Washington Post comes up with a similar ranking. Regardless of how much Polis had to do with that relative success, he can plausibly claim that his administration did a pretty good job handling this unprecedented crisis.
And Democrats already are trying to pry through Ganahl’s armor. I’ve seen two main lines of attack so far. 1) Try to associate Ganahl with Trump, Boebert, and other Republicans unpopular in the metro region and in wealthier mountain areas. 2) Associate Regent Ganahl with John Eastman, a visiting professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, when he spread conspiracies about election fraud at the rally in Washington, D.C., before the Capitol assault. I don’t think these “guilt by association” attacks will be too effective, but we’ll see how well Ganahl parries them.
As I said, Ganahl is a good candidate. But a lot of times that just isn’t enough. Ganahl almost certainly will not become governor of Colorado in January of 2023. But she could play a central role in helping Republicans make headway in the state legislature to better-check the Democrats. And, if she does that job well enough, just maybe the ground will shift enough over the coming year to put a surprise victory within her reach.
A quick correction: In a previous piece I claimed that the FDA “outlawed” Covid vaccines for children under 12. Technically doctors could prescribe Pfizer off-label to young children once it was fully approved, but that’s still officially discouraged.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com. This op-ed was originally published on Sept. 21 at Complete Colorado.