Ganahl Polis launch

Republican Heidi Ganahl explains why she's challenging Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, pictured on a screen behind her, in a campaign video released Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. 

Republican Heidi Ganahl, an entrepreneur and University of Colorado regent, launched a campaign Tuesday challenging Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' 2022 re-election bid, charging the Democrat with helping create a set of crises she said are plaguing the state.

"Right now, the people of Colorado are facing devastating storms," she said in a video released by her campaign, pointing to a climbing murder rate, a mental health crisis among children and a rising cost of living.

"Jared Polis does not understand the storms we are facing," she added. "In fact, he helped create them."

Ganahl joins a crowded Republican primary field that includes Greg Lopez, a former Parker mayor seeking the nomination for a second time after trailing in the 2018 primary.

Ganahl kicked off what her campaign said will be a seven-day tour around the state Tuesday morning at a diner in Monument, the small El Paso County town where she grew up. She was scheduled to make stops along the Front Range for the rest of the day including in Castle Rock, Aurora, Fort Collins and Greeley, before heading to the Eastern Plains Wednesday.

"The storm doesn’t have to last," Ganahl said. "We need to change. We’re ready for the sun to shine and those mountaintops in our lives again. That’s why I’m running for governor of Colorado. As a mom, wife, entrepreneur, I live an America dream, right here in this great state. As governor, I’ll do whatever it takes to protect it."

Ganahl, who won an at-large seat on the CU system's governing board in 2016, is the only Republican to hold statewide office. She's been teasing her entrance into the race for months in speeches to GOP groups and in a column for the Denver Gazette, Colorado Politics' sister publication, and on Friday filed paperwork to raise money for the campaign.

In remarks to a Republican club in Jefferson County earlier this summer, Ganahl criticized Polis for piling restrictions on businesses and residents during the pandemic.

"If you’re concerned about COVID, protect yourself, don't knock everyone else down and call them 'selfish bastards,' like Polis did," Ganahl said. "And if you want a check, earn it. If you want to go to college, pay for it. If someone says things you find offensive, challenge them with respect, don't ban them and run into a safe space."

After her first husband died in an airplane crash in 1994, Ganahl founded a national chain of dog day care centers called Camp Bow Wow and sold the businesses in 2014. She has founded several nonprofits, including the Fight Back Foundation, and runs SheFactor, a digital and lifestyle platform, with her 24-year-old daughter, Tori Ganahl.

Ganahl lives in Lone Tree with her husband, Jason Ganahl, owner of GQue BBQ restaurants in Lone Tree, Westminster and at Empower Field at Mile High. They have four children.

Polis, a tech entrepreneur and former five-term congressman from Boulder, won election as governor in 2018 over Republican nominee Walker Stapleton, a two-term state treasurer. Polis poured more than $23 million in self-funding into his campaign.

The Polis campaign declined through a spokesman to comment on Ganahl's entry into the race.

The executive director of the Democratic Governors Association contrasted Colorado's record during the Polis administration with what he described as Ganahl's embrace of "the GOP's most radical positions," in an emailed statement 

“Under Gov. Jared Polis’ leadership, Colorado has made enormous strides forward, including reducing taxes, making historic investments in public education and expanding access to health care all while leading Colorado through the pandemic and continuing to build back the economy better," said Noam Lee. "Ganahl’s brand of far-right extremism threatens to move the state backward and is unequivocally wrong for Colorado.”

Colorado Democratic Party spokesman Nico Delgado sounded a similar theme in a statement greeting Ganahl's announcement, saying she "can't hide her long track record of being in lockstep with Donald Trump, Cory Gardner, Lauren Boebert, and the far-right fringe."

Colorado voters have only elected one Republican as governor in the last 50 years — Bill Owens, who served from 1999 to 2007 — but have never elected a woman to the office. Democrats currently hold a solid trifecta in state government, controlling every statewide executive office and majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.