The Republican bench in Colorado can fit inside a phone booth, which is a big reason why 2022 has been such a difficult election cycle to predict for the GOP. That doesn’t mean we won’t give it a try.
Last week, Ernest Luning of the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman updated the rumor mill on potential statewide Republican candidates in 2022. That gives us as good of a news peg as any to update “The Big Line: 2022.” Here’s how things look for the five statewide races that will be on the ballot in Colorado…
Incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet is the first U.S. Senator from Colorado to even seek a third term in office since Gordon Allott in 1966 (remember to credit Colorado Pols when you get this question right while playing “Obscure Colorado Trivia Pursuit”). Bennet dispatched then-District Attorney Ken Buck in 2010 before lucking out with Darryl Glenn as his Republican opponent in 2016, and the trend toward terrible GOP opponents seems likely to continue.
A few Republicans have officially filed paperwork to run in 2022, including people named Juli Henry, Peter Yu, and Erik Aadland. Since Donald Trump will be “re-appointed” as President before any of these names are likely to end up in the U.S. Senate, let’s just move along…
Former El Paso County GOP Chairman Eli Bremer indicated his interest in a Senate run back in February (as first reported by Luning); that trial balloon was met with a collective shrug from Republicans, but Bremer hasn’t given up on this dream just yet. Aside from Bremer, two names seem to be popping up more than others for Republicans: Clarice Navarro and Dan Caplis (no, seriously).
Navarro is a former State Representative from Pueblo who resigned her seat in 2017 to take a job in the Trump administration as the Colorado Farm Service Agency’s state executive director. Navarro currently works as Rep. Lauren “Q*Bert” Boebert’s District Director, which appears to be a fairly irrelevant position. Boebert political advisers like Laura Carno are advising Navarro on making a bid for Senate, and Navarro is taking a close look at running from what we hear.
Caplis is a silly right-wing radio host and ambulance-chasing defense lawyer who has been threatening to run for one office or another for more than a decade. Last fall, Caplis was talking about challenging Gov. Jared Polis in 2022, but he seems to have since changed his focus to the U.S. Senate. Normally we’d just ignore Caplis, but from what we hear, he is actively trying to put together a staff and is willing to front the money for salaries, which is more than can be said for any other potential Republican candidate at this point.
Bottom Line: After Democrat John Hickenlooper’s convincing 2020 Senate win, national Republicans aren’t going to target Bennet in 2022. Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee will have to do most of the work themselves. Bennet is safe here.
With strong approval ratings and the ability to self-fund his campaign, Incumbent Democrat Jared Polis is in pretty good shape 18 months before Election Day.
On the Republican side, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, who finished a distant third in the GOP Primary for Governor in 2018, started his second campaign for Governor in August 2019. It’s possible that Lopez could end up as the GOP nominee for Governor purely because he is the only person willing to try, but there’s virtually no chance that he could defeat Polis in a General Election. As we wrote when discussing Lopez’s 2022 announcement:
Lopez was never a serious threat to actually win the GOP nomination in 2018, though he was one of two Republican candidates with a criminal record, and the first statewide candidate in memory to have both asked and answered the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?”
The last remaining statewide Republican elected official in Colorado, CU Regent Heidi Ganahl, likely couldn’t seek re-election in 2022 even if she wanted to try, which is one reason why she has been regularly mentioned as a GOP gubernatorial hopeful. Ganahl has been working hard to raise her profile in recent months, though the results have been less than encouraging. Ganahl is being prodded along by the usual cast of characters, including former gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry, but the rumors we’ve heard recently are that she and her “team” are not exactly bullish on the odds of defeating Polis. There’s been talk, in fact, that Ganahl might ultimately decide to run for State Treasurer instead, under the thinking that it would be easier to defeat incumbent Democrat Dave Young in 2022.
The rest of the cupboard is pretty dry for Republicans. You might still run across Republicans hopeful that former Sen. Cory Gardner — who lost his 2020 re-election race by 9 points — will take a look at Governor, but that’s not a serious rumor. Former District Attorney George Brauchler, who failed at running for both Governor and Attorney General in 2018, wants another shot but has generally been ignored by top Republicans, despite his right-wing radio show and his position as a hack Republican attorney with Maven Law Group. State Senator Kevin Priola, one of the few GOP bright spots in recent years, appears to be more focused on running for Colorado’s yet-to-be-determined 8th Congressional district, where he might have trouble even winning a Republican Primary.
Bottom Line: Polis is going to get re-elected.
Incumbent Democrat Phil Weiser raised a ridiculous amount of money in Q1 and is not taking his seat for granted.
Republicans had been hopeful that former U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn would challenge Weiser, but Dunn has signaled recently that he isn’t interested in this race. Former Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has put out feelers about running in 2022 but hasn’t received the response she had hoped for (ditto George Brauchler). The only Republican name we’ve heard recently is that of John Kellner, who was narrowly elected in 2020 to fill Brauchler’s seat as D.A. in the 18th Judicial District (Arapahoe County, primarily).
Bottom Line: Dunn made the most sense for Republicans here. The nomination may ultimately end up with someone like Kellner, who has nothing to lose by running in 2022 but isn’t considered a top-shelf contender. Weiser is the strong favorite to win re-election.
Democrat Dave Young is running for re-election in 2022, and this race could end up as the most interesting statewide battle in Colorado if Heidi Ganahl decides not to run for Governor (see above). Former State Rep. Dan Nordberg has also expressed interest in running for State Treasurer, but he couldn’t outduel Ganahl in a GOP Primary and probably wouldn’t try.
Bottom Line: Young has done a good job in his first term as State Treasurer and is favored to win re-election. But of all the statewide seats in Colorado, this might be the best chance for Republicans — mostly because it’s pretty far down the list of concerns for Colorado voters.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Republicans really, really, really want to knock off incumbent Democrat Jena Griswold, and it appears that they have a likely candidate in former Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese.
Republicans (and Pugliese herself) have been touting her as a “rising star” for years, though she never seems to actually “rise.” But now that she has abandoned her bizarre attempt to become Mesa County Attorney, Pugliese appears to have firmly set her sights on SOS in 2022.
Bottom Line: Pugliese probably clears a Republican Primary (if there is one), but she’ll have more trouble convincing General Election voters that she still makes sense as a statewide candidate. Republicans seem to be further along with Pugliese and SOS than they are with any other statewide race, though Griswold is still the favorite to keep her seat.