Jan 4, 2022 - News

Polis steps into the national political spotlight

President Joe Biden, right, speaks with Colorado Governor Jared Polis during a September 2021 visit.
President Joe Biden, right, speaks with Colorado Governor Jared Polis during a September 2021 visit. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images

Gov. Jared Polis is set to launch his reelection campaign this month — but many suggest he's eyeing a different office: President.

State of play: Chatter about Polis, a former congressman, being a candidate for the White House began at least six months ago, close associates say, and is now being amplified at the national level — most notably by prominent Republicans.

What's happening: In numerous national media appearances, Polis is promoting COVID vaccines but rejecting the effectiveness of mask mandates, despite the fact that his administration pushed local officials to implement them at certain points.

He also suggested in a recent interview with CPR that "if you haven't been vaccinated, it's really your own darn fault," if you get sick or die from the virus.

  • Fox News commentator Dana Perino promoted Polis as a Democratic presidential contender for his "fearless" remarks.
  • The National Journal called his "non-alarmist outlook" a "winning model for the Democratic Party."
  • Snapchat's "Good Luck America," which has 2.4 million subscribers, featured Polis in a segment where host Peter Hamby praised the governor's approach of "talking like a normal human being."

Between the lines: Polis aides say the national attention is not an attempt to build and broaden his political profile in case President Joe Biden doesn't seek another term.

Rather, it's an effort to get the word out about vaccines. And Polis told the Journal a familiar political refrain: "I have no interest in running for any other office."

  • To prove the point, his reelection bid is taking shape, Axios has learned. He's hired longtime Colorado Democratic strategists Sarah Andrews as campaign manager and Amber Miller as spokesperson.

The other side: Republicans are mocking the suggestion of Polis for the White House, saying his words don't match his record, particularly his past support for vaccine requirements and other mandates.

  • "He's trying to change his tone now here at the end," Joe Jackson, executive director at the Colorado Republican Party, told Axios. "We all know that he has higher ambitions."

Meanwhile, liberal pundits are criticizing Polis for making political decisions that brush aside science related to the pandemic.

  • Trish Zornio, a former Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, called the governor's approach "ignorant and callus."
  • She says he's made it "abundantly clear he does not believe it is his role to help lead the state out of the pandemic, merely to manage the fallouts."

Quick take: Polis' approach is not new in Colorado, where he put personal responsibility at the early forefront, begrudgingly implemented a lockdown and celebrated reopening earlier than other states — undeterred by the rising coronavirus death toll.

  • His frequent flirtation with conservative ideals is likewise not new.
  • As his longtime strategist Rick Ridder recently told John: "It's not left, it's not right — it's Polis."

Read our first installment of this week's What's Next in 2022 series.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.Subscribe here.

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