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Gov. Jared Polis poses for a photo at the 2021 Outdoor Retailer show in Denver. Photo: John Frank/Axios

The top Republican candidate for governor will launch a bid against Democratic incumbent Jared Polis Tuesday — but even she questions whether it's a winnable race.

Why it matters: The 2022 campaign announcement expected from Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent and the only statewide elected Republican, marks the real start of the governor's race.

  • She filed paperwork Friday to run for governor, joining a handful of lesser-known Republicans who don't have much of a chance.

Threat level: All signs suggest to top prognosticators that Colorado is a solid Democratic seat.

Even Republicans are worried.

  • Ganahl told the Denver Post in June that a bid to defeat Polis was a "moonshot."
  • John Cooke, the state Senate assistant GOP leader, told conservative talk radio in August that he doesn't think Polis can be beat. "You know, it’s unfortunate, but money runs campaigns," Cooke said.

Yes, but: Republican strategists believe Polis' vulnerabilities are just beginning to emerge, particularly related to his handling of the pandemic and what they characterize as overbearing public health orders.

  • A recent Colorado Public Radio investigation found that Colorado had the worst death rate for nursing homes between last Thanksgiving and Christmas, a fact the Polis administration kept quiet.
  • Two deals struck by the administration for coronavirus testing also cost the state millions but largely fell through, recent Gazette investigations revealed.

What they're saying: "I think it's a scandal, I really do," said Dick Wadhams, a GOP strategist and former state party director. "I think the Colorado department of health was totally asleep at the wheel and a lot of people died that shouldn't have."

The other side: Polis told Axios Denver in a recent interview that he signaled all along the problems in nursing homes and pushed back against criticisms that he hasn’t done enough.

"You can't completely destroy the value of your golden years in the name of keeping people safe. At some level you have to empower people to make those decisions."
— Gov. Jared Polis

Moreover, he defended himself against Republican complaints that say he did too much with capacity rules and mask requirements but not enough in other places.

  • "If they are saying I did too much and didn't do enough at the same time, I think everyone can view that as hypocrisy," Polis told us.
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Go deeper

Colorado's Jared Polis weds in first same-sex marriage for sitting governor

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and his partner, Marlon Reis, meeting a terrier. Photo: Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

Colorado's Jared Polis (D) married his partner, Marlon Reis, on Wednesday, becoming the first sitting governor to have a same-sex wedding.

The big picture: Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor in November 2018, four years after the state legalized same-sex marriage.

27 mins ago - World

Blinken, Austin call out China at event on Australia security pact

Blinken and Austin. Photo: Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin condemned China's "aggressive" and "destabilizing" behavior at a press conference Thursday, as they inaugurated a major new trilateral security partnership with Australia and the U.K.

Why it matters: China was not explicitly mentioned in President Biden's announcement of the AUKUS alliance, through which the U.S. and the U.K. will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a broader effort to ensure "peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific."

2020 was the deadliest year for environmental defenders

Engineer Sandra Cuéllar is one of many Colombians who've gone missing or been killed for their environmental activism. Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images

Latin America and the Caribbean is the deadliest region for environmental defenders, a violent record that has global repercussions.

Why it matters: The region has several of the most biodiverse areas of the planet, but they are constantly threatened by logging, mining or aquifer overexploitation.