Jared Polis (left) and partner Marlon ReisPhoto: Polis for Colorado
While much of the focus on this year’s midterm elections is on Congress, there are 36 gubernatorial seats up for grabs this fall. Republicans currently hold 26 of those seats, and Democrats are hopeful that a blue wave will extend to the state house as well.
One potential beneficiary of a Democratic wave is Representative Jared Polis. Polis, who has been serving in Congress since 2009, is running for the Democratic nomination in the June 26 primary on an unabashedly progressive platform. If elected, Polis would be the first openly gay governor in the nation.
Polis is not the only candidate hoping to make history. Texas Democrats have chosen Lupe Valdez, a former Dallas sheriff, as their standbearer for governor. Despite her law-and-order image, Valdez is given little chance in a state where Republicans have a tight (and homophobic) grip on the electorate.
By contrast, Polis is running in a state that is increasingly liberal. He is betting that Democratic voters are willing to accept an aggressive agenda that includes a single-payer health care system and state-funded full-day preschool.
Polis has deep pockets, having made hundreds of millions of dollars creating and selling ecommerce sites. He has already spent $11 million of his own money on his campaign, leading to attacks of inappropriate spending from his three primary opponents.
Normally, the challenge for the Democratic nominee would be to balance the party’s leftward tilt with Colorado’s strong conservative bent. The incumbent, Democrat John Hickenlooper, has been conspicuously moderate in his approach.
Polis seems to be betting on the state being much more liberal now and Democratic voters much more motivated to turn out to vote in the fall than Republicans. His opponents, especially Mike Johnston, a former state senator, position themselves as more likely to attract voters outside a hard-core base.
“We want to excite progressive voters and show voters in the middle that there is a better alternative to the direction Trump is taking the country, a better way to grow our economy, save people money on healthcare, and make our air cleaner,” Polis told LGBTQ Nation.
The primary has also been something of an identity-politics free-for-all. Polis is using a rainbow-colored logo and a message that says “Take that, Mike Pence.” Opponents Cary Kennedy, a former state treasurer, is appealing to female voters with a “When Women Lead” message, while Johnston, who is fluent in Spanish, has been running ads on Spanish-language stations.
If elected, Polis will move into the governor’s mansion with his partner, Marlon Reis, and their two children. That would drive the religious right crazy. Focus on the Family is headquartered in Colorado Springs.
One thing unlikely to change is Polis’ wardrobe. Polis has the distinction of being called “the worst dressed member of Congress.” GQ gave him a makeover after he was seen on the floor of Congress wearing a purple polo short and clip-on bow tie.
Polis hasn’t committed any sartorial crimes since, but don’t expect him to be named the nation’s best dressed governor.