Apr 16, 2021 - News

Political pressure colors COVID debate in Colorado

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, center, visits a mass COVID-19 vaccination event.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis visits a mass COVID-19 vaccination event. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Jared Polis is no longer the state's top COVID cop. The Colorado governor passes the baton Saturday to local officials to set public health orders.

Why it matters: Like most major decisions made by the nation's governors during the pandemic, the move is colored by politics.

On this accord, Polis — who faces reelection in 2022 — stands apart from many of his Democratic peers.

  • Polis is adamant about the need to get back to normal — and he continually touts that he reopened Colorado's economy before other states, a talking point more often heard from Republican governors.
  • He argues his decisions prioritize public health, but he cites the need for personal responsibility.

Between the lines: "The language he is using [about reopening] is more aggressive," said Josh Penry, a top Republican strategist in Colorado. "I think he probably feels that pressure."

  • "People generally want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but [that support is] soft and it's super fluid," he added. "No smart politician would be taking anything for granted in a political environment like this one right now."

Context: The approach shows Polis' libertarian leanings that often align him with conservatives.

Asked this week about his approach, he acknowledged that the risk of further outbreaks and deaths are probable. But he argued the benefits of reopening schools and restaurants are worth it.

  • "What's important is respecting human lives and human dignity. And part of our dignity is being able to support ourselves," he told John.

State of play: A Magellan Strategies poll from February found 56% of voters approved of how he's addressing COVID-19, which was higher than the Biden administration. "I do think this is smart politics for Governor Polis," said pollster Ryan Winger.

The bottom line: In assessing Polis, Democratic strategists believe he's achieved the right balance.

  • "I think Polis has been focused less on politics and more on the health and safety of Coloradans — ultimately that's how voters are going to judge his response," said Jason Bane, a prominent Democratic blogger.
  • "So, is there risk? Sure, but at this point it’s a low-threshold risk to me," added Democratic consultant Steve Welchert.

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