Asked at a GOP event Tuesday if she will “be seeking Donald Trump’s endorsement,” Republican candidate for governor Heidi Ganahl said, “Yes, I would accept President Trump’s endorsement.”
Ganahl’s response at the forum, hosted by the Douglas County Republican Women and Cherry Creek Republican Women, isn’t surprising, in part, because Ganahl has supported Trump in the past.
But if Ganahl, a CU regent, were more confident about winning the GOP primary in June, she’d probably have dodged the Trump question — as she’s tried to do on the question of whether Trump won the 2020 election — and positioned herself for November’s general election where her support of Trump will almost certainly be a liability, the only question being how much of one.
Sixty-two percent of unaffiliated voters, who comprise about 43% of Colorado’s electorate, disapproved of Trump in 2018; 34% were less likely to vote for a Republican candidate due to Trump, according to a 2018 Magellan Strategies poll.
People sometimes forget the magnitude of Polis’ 2018 support from unaffiliated voters. A crazy 59% of election-deciding unaffiliated voters supported Jared Polis in 2018 versus 25% for then-Treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful Walker Stapleton, giving Polis a winning margin of 34% of the bloc. Among unaffiliated women, the margin was even higher: 45% (65% to 20%).
As it is, Ganahl appears to be using elements of Stapleton’s playbook, whose primary-election anxiety eventually got so acute that he recruited hard-right Tom Tancredo to endorse him at the GOP state convention. Stapleton eventually spent $700,000 on TV ad depicting himself and Trump.
This led longtime Colorado pundit Eric Sondermann at the time to label Stapleton’s move an unforced error.
“Walker Stapleton has a luxury that none of the Democrats have, which is to run a November race even now in May and June and instead he’s running a May and June race when I don’t think he needs to,” said Sondermann on Colorado Inside Out in May, 2018. “I think he should be pivoting already to make himself a viable general-election candidate. This governor’s race in November is going to be tough enough for Walker Stapleton as the presumptive Republican nominee as it is. He is making it tougher for himself by using his advertising dollars to overly embrace Donald Trump. He doesn’t need that to win this primary. To have Tom Tancredo give his nominating speech at the convention in Boulder, you don’t think that one might come back to bite him come September, October, etc.? In tennis, it’s called unforced errors. And I think Stapleton is making a number of these unforced errors.”
At this point, Ganahl isn’t waving her Trump credentials around like Stapleton was, and the politics are really different today, but she’s staking right-wing ground on other issues, such as when she praised an election fraud conspiracy group to supporters last December. Does Sondermann think Ganahl today is erring as Stapleton did then, moving too far to the right? He couldn’t be reached for comment.
Stapleton’s public embrace of Tancredo was in large part forced by the fact that his planned route to the ballot, gathering petition signatures, was derailed by fraud. The Ganahl campaign, which has also chosen to avoid the need to secure 30% of GOP state assembly attendees’ votes in favor of petitioning on the ballot, turned its signatures in to the Secretary of State’s office on Monday.
Arguably, Ganahl is further from being the presumptive nominee than Stapleton was and so may be feeling even more heat to move right than Stapleton did. She’s way ahead in terms of money but seems to lag in momentum and zeitgeist to Danielle Neuschwanger, who topped her in a Democratic poll last month.
In any case, for a variety of reasons, as political observers have pointed out, it remains to be seen how much Trump will affect Colorado’s general election.
A major unknown is whether Trump will be an active campaigner or sit on the sidelines. It appears that it will be the former, but Trump may not get the attention he seems to want.
If Trump has a high media profile in the months leading up to the election, Trump-hating voters may be more likely not only to oppose candidates like Ganahl who’ve aligned themselves with Trump — and related issues like election conspiracies — but also to make the effort to vote.