Jared Polis elected governor of Colorado

The Democrat will be the nation’s first out gay man elected governor and Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
6 min. read
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis embraces Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper after winning the election to replace him. Nov. 6, 2018. (Aly McClaran for Denverite)

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Democrat Jared Polis on Tuesday was elected governor of Colorado, becoming the first out gay man elected governor in the United States and Colorado’s first Jewish governor after defeating Republican challenger Walker Stapleton.

Secretary of State figures showed Polis leading Stapleton 51 to 45 percent with 19 percent of counties reporting just before 9 p.m. Outlets including ABC News, NBC News, CNN and the Denver Post declared Polis the winner shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The win was part of a big night for Democrats, who led in late Tuesday results for other executive races including Secretary of State, Attorney General and State Treasurer. The night included the successful flipping of the 6th Congressional District, with Democrat Jason Crow defeating incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.

Polis walked on stage alongside his running mate Dianne Primavera inside a packed ballroom at the Westin Denver Downtown to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'" to deliver his victory speech at about 8:15 p.m.

The crowd cheers. (Aly McClaran for Denverite)

"Tonight we reaffirm what an amazing state that we live in," Polis said. "In Colorado, we dream, we dare and we do. Whether it's embracing big ideas or hiking our amazing mountains, we don't back down when something is challenging. We see problems as opportunities in our state of Colorado."

Polis vowed to serve all residents no matter their party, where they lived, their race or their gender. He said he will inherit a legacy of growth, success and problem solving from term-limited Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. He said he will continue building an economy that gives Coloradans from all walks of life a chance to not only get by but thrive.

"We want to make sure every child, regardless of the zip code they grow up in, has a great education, beginning with full-day kindergarten," Polis said. "Today, I talked with Republican (state) Representative Jim Wilson of Salida to discuss the first stages of putting in place bipartisan support for full-day kindergarten for every child in Colorado."

Stapleton had conceded the race just about 10 minutes prior. He congratulated Polis, who in turn thanked Stapleton for his eight years of service as state treasurer.

"Though we came up short tonight, our fight and the ideas we advanced during the campaign were worth it," Stapleton said. "Though this has been a tough campaign, now is the time to come together as Coloradans."

Walker Stapleton makes a concessions speech at the Colorado Republicans' election day party, Nov. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Walker Stapleton kisses his wife, Jenna, after his concession speech at the Colorado Republicans' election day party, Nov. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Polis, 43, built his platform with progressive ideas focusing on expanding health care coverage, providing universal preschool and all-day kindergarten, increasing renewable energy use and challenging President Trump’s policies. He will be the state’s 43rd governor.

Mentioning his grandparents, whom Polis said came to the United States "penniless" and fleeing persecution as Jews in Eastern Europe, Polis said they managed to "forge an amazing American way of life" for their kids and grandchildren.

"We are still that country providing opportunity for the next generation and the next generation," Polis said. He later mentioned the families he said "have been in our state for thousands of years as part of our Native American tradition" and people he said arrived as Spanish settlers to people who arrived "a month ago from Mexico or China."

"You are all part of our great state," Polis said.

Polis currently represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. He is originally from Colorado and formerly served on the Colorado State Board of Education before running for Congress. He’s a businessman who helped create companies including ProFlowers, an online florist later sold in the 2000s, and also co-found Patriot Boot Camp and a school in Denver for kids experiencing homelessness.

Polis is replacing Hickenlooper, a centrist Democrat leaving the governor’s seat with aspirations for the White House. Hickenlooper was present during Tuesday's watch party.

"He's going to make a great governor," Hickenlooper said about Polis before results were announced. He was cautious, though. "If it does turn out, that we get both houses and you know, not just Governor Polis but we get Attorney General (Phil) Weiser, some of the other down ballot...I think that would be an exciting time and I think that would be good for Colorado."

It was a bad, bad night for Republicans. Their party was soundly defeated in major races, with Stapleton attempting to be the first Republican candidate elected governor of Colorado in 16 years. He had trailed in polls for much of the general election.

"I will always be grateful with the wonderful opportunities that Colorado has afforded me," Stapleton said. "I love Colorado and I will continue to serve Colorado in causes greater than ourselves."

Jared Polis waits to walk on stage. (Aly McClaran for Denverite)

Corky Blankenship, 74, was walking around the ballroom floor after Polis’ speech with a drink in hand. The out Denver resident wore two buttons with the pride flag.

Blankenship said the community has “come so far.” He came to Tuesday’s party feeling confident, though he wasn’t expecting the race to be called so soon.

“And now we can walk down the street, hold our heads up high and be proud,” Blankenship said. “I’m so proud of him, and his partner, they’re wonderful people.”

Minutes before, Polis had thanked his partner. Polis gave him the first-of-its-kind title, to big applause.

"I want to thank our amazing support network," Polis said on stage. "First and foremost of course, my amazing partner and the first First Man in the history of Colorado, Marlon Reis."

David Sachs contributed to this report.

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