The Colorado Republican party’s 2022 gubernatorial primary is crowded. But the candidates have one thing in common: They will all have a hard time beating incumbent Democratic Governor Jared Polis in the general election.

The current head of Colorado’s government, who became the first openly gay man to be elected governor of a U.S. state in 2018, spent more than $20 million of his own funds during his campaign for the state’s highest office. In his first term, Polis focused heavily on pandemic relief, health care, the state’s preservation of land, and efforts to shift to sustainable energy.

He has also faced plenty of criticism. Earlier this month, local environmental groups gathered at the State Capitol during Polis’ State of the State address to protest the governor’s record on climate change and urge him to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells across the state. A damaging report published in November 2021 by ProPublica also showed that in the nine years leading up to his election as governor, Polis avoided paying federal income tax through loopholes available to the super rich.

The state’s political persuasions, however, are in Polis’ favor. Colorado has been trending blue for some time now thanks to the continued growth of major cities like Denver and Boulder, as well as the surrounding suburbs. William Owens, whose term ended in 2007, was the state’s last Republican governor.

That hasn’t deterred a number of Coloradans from joining in the Republican primary, which is set to take place on June 28, with the hope of taking on Polis in the general election. While nearly a dozen GOP candidates have declared campaigns, here’s a look at the most prominent contenders.

Heidi Ganahl

Platform: Heidi Ganahl launched her campaign for governor in September 2021. Her top three priorities include bolstering support of police departments, promoting “freedom” by lowering taxes and retracting COVID-19 restrictions like mask mandates, and addressing the state’s mental health crisis. Ganahl’s messaging on the campaign trail has often leaned into her status as a woman vying for the governor’s seat; she regularly mentions her experiences as a mother of four kids and the harmful effects she believes remote learning has on children.

Experience: Ganahl currently has an at-large position on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, making her the only Republican to hold statewide office. The Lone Tree resident has spent most of her career as an entrepreneur. In 2003, she founded the multi-million dollar business Camp Bow Wow, which is a day care center for dogs. In 2015, Ganahl sold the company, though she still maintains the title of CEO. Ganahl also started the Fight Back Foundation in 2013, a nonprofit that aims to help kids navigate bullying, sexual assault, school safety, and substance abuse.

Interesting to know: During a speech in December 2021, Ganahl showed support for a group that rejects the results of the 2020 presidential election. When asked for further comment, Ganahl refused to clarify her endorsement. Early ratings show Ganahl as one of the favorites to win the Republican primary, and if she wins the general election, she would be the first female governor in the state’s history.

Greg Lopez

Platform: Greg Lopez will be throwing his hat in the governor’s race for the second time, after finishing third in the 2018 Republican primary. Lopez claims to be a champion for small businesses and rural communities. He has also been vocal on issues around education and his opposition to illegal immigration, vowing to take action by enforcing “punishments” for immigrants living in Colorado without proof of citizenship. At the Gubernatorial Primary Candidate Forum on January 13, Lopez pledged to “never shut down small businesses or ask families to walk away from their dreams,” and criticized mask mandates and remote learning. Lopez described Governor Polis’ “MeatOut Day” on March 20 as “a slap in the face to farmers and ranchers,” and promised to invest in the meat industry, as well as Colorado oil and gas.

Experience: Lopez owns a restaurant and bar in Elizabeth that he runs with his wife Lisa and two sons. The child of Mexican immigrants, Lopez is passionate about prioritizing the needs of small business owners. The Air Force veteran was president and CEO of the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2004. He also served as Colorado director of the Small Business Administration from 2008 to 2014.

Interesting to know: At the age of 27, Lopez was the youngest person to serve as mayor of Parker, a southern suburb of Denver. Plot twist: He was registered as a Democrat at the time.

Danielle Neuschwanger

Platform: Often quoting the Bible in speeches, religion takes a front seat in Danielle Neuschwanger’s campaign. Neuschwanger’s top priorities include preserving Colorado’s agricultural industry, promoting job opportunities through vocational schools, and “putting boots back on the ground” by increasing funding for public safety.

Experience: Neuschwanger has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Colorado State University Global. After graduation, she worked as a de-escalation instructor for first responders, where she earned the nickname “The Mental Terrorist” for her efforts training others in aggression management techniques. (The first-time candidate even sells campaign merchandise that reads, “Mental Terrorist, Danielle for Colorado Governor.”) Neuschwanger worked in criminal justice for several more years, during which she assisted with programming on things like active shooter drills and mass-casualty incidents, and earned her FEMA certification in disaster management. She then transitioned to real estate, founding the brokerage Wild Buck Realty in Elbert County. Neuschwanger lives on a ranch in that area with her husband and two sons. The slogan “cancel politicians” punctuates many of her posts on social media.

Interesting to know: At a campaign event in December 2021, Neuschwanger publicly questioned Governor Polis’ sexuality, accusing him of identifying as gay to increase his popularity.

Other candidates to look out for include: Laurie Clark, a Monument Board of Trustees member and owner of a real estate brokerage in Englewood, Jason Lopez, a military veteran who most recently served his second tour of duty in Afghanistan and now owns the cannabis supplement business RawRx, and finally Jeff Fry, a consultant and project manager, who has overseen the construction and function of oil and gas facilities for the past decade. Fry also has worked as a construction manager building roads across Colorado.

Fiona Murphy
Fiona Murphy

Fiona writes and produces multimedia stories for 5280.com, as well as oversees social media strategy for 5280’s and 5280 Home’s accounts.