Former Republican candidate for Colorado governor Heidi Ganahl speaks Sep. 10, 2022, during the Club 20 Western Colorado Candidate Debates at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. (William Woody for Colorado Newsline)
With a couple months to go before this week’s election, Colorado Republican governor candidate Heidi Ganahl started insisting that school children were identifying as cats, and she accused school administrators of accommodating the disruptive behavior.
None of it was true.
The claim was part of a national phenomenon of right-wing politicians and influencers using anti-LGBTQ rhetoric to foment outrage over “furries,” with some even asserting that schools had provided litter boxes for kids who identified as animals. But no matter how many journalists debunked the claims, no matter how many school officials protested that the narrative was false, Ganahl persisted in pushing the lie.
On Tuesday, according to unofficial results posted Wednesday afternoon, incumbent Democratic Gov. Jared Polis defeated Ganahl by 17 percentage points — a decisive repudiation of a campaign so willing to mislead.
The furry saga was hardly the only time Ganahl indulged in mistruths, and she was hardly the only unsuccessful Republican to embrace dishonesty. Across the ballot, Republican candidates in Colorado learned the hard way that lies are no way to inspire voter confidence.
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Much hope on the right was invested in Joe O’Dea, the Colorado GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, who was widely viewed as a moderate antidote to MAGA extremists. He hit upon a line of attack against his Democratic opponent, Sen. Michael Bennet, that cast the incumbent as absurdly ineffective for having passed only one bill in 13 years in the Senate.
The problem was this was a lie.
As Newsline’s Chase Woodruff documented, O’Dea’s assertion was based on a misleading measure of congressional performance, and Bennet had in fact sponsored dozens of pieces of legislation that became law after being incorporated into larger bills. O’Dea surely understood this, but he continued to deploy the one-bill-in-13-years talking point without regard for its veracity. It was so reckless as to inspire Bennet during a debate to break decorum and, with justification, say, “You’re a liar, Joe.”
O’Dea lost to Bennet by 12 points.
Across the ballot, Republican candidates in Colorado learned the hard way that lies are no way to inspire voter confidence.
Election denial was a species of lie that more or less tainted, directly or indirectly, almost every Republican candidacy in Colorado. Erik Aadland, who ran for the 7th Congressional District seat against Democratic state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, last year said during an appearance with the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club, “The 2020 election, it was rigged. Absolutely rigged … If you do enough looking into it, I think you’ll be convinced.”
The 2020 election absolutely was not rigged, but Republican figures who repeat the “big lie” have brought American democracy to the brink of extinction and deserve expulsion from public life.
Aadland lost to Pettersen by 16 points.
Ganahl was the Colorado Republican candidate most done in by indulgence of election conspiracy theories. She long refused to answer questions about whether she thought the 2020 presidential election was stolen, she praised a Colorado election-denial group, she took a favorable view of notorious coup plotter John Eastman, and she selected an election denier as her running mate. Then, in the days leading up to Tuesday, she appeared for interviews with some of the nation’s most virulent election deniers, including Sherronna Bishop, Steve Bannon and Joe Oltmann. Her appearance with Oltmann — who has suggested her opponent, Polis, should be hanged — included her acceptance of his endorsement, an unforgivable act of apparent desperation that should forever disqualify her from any role in public affairs.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, the Republican candidate for the new 8th Congressional District seat, put out an ad in which she claimed her Democratic opponent, state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, along with other state lawmakers, “voted to legalize fentanyl possession.”
Kirkmeyer proved fond of falsehoods, as when she asserted that Colorado had issued only 22 oil and gas drilling permits this year, when in fact the true number was 842.
She conceded the race to Caraveo Wednesday evening. Kirkmeyer’s cavalier approach to the truth was emblematic of a Republican Party that lost every statewide race Tuesday and will have zero members in statewide office when Ganahl leaves her at-large University of Colorado regent position in January.
It’s an approach shared by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a seditionist election denier who is the face of the Colorado Republican Party. Her race against Democratic challenger Adam Frisch was too close to call Wednesday night — and the very fact that she was struggling in a district that historically leans Republican by 9 percentage points reflects the political limits of lies.
As the state Republican Party tries to recover from its disastrous performance Tuesday, it might learn from the words of the triumphant Bennet, who said in his victory speech, “We won this campaign because we told the truth.”
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