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Hickenlooper gives ‘serious thought’ to Senate run after ending presidential campaign


Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper suspended his presidential campaign Thursday but said he will take a serious look at running for Senate.

“I ran for president because this country is being ripped apart by politics and partisan games while our biggest problems go unsolved,” he said in a video statement. “Today, I’m ending my campaign for president. But I will never stop believing that America can only move forward when we work together.”

Hickenlooper, a two-term governor, failed to gain ground amid a sprawling field of Democrats. In July, POLITICO reported that Hickenlooper’s campaign was in shambles and that his own senior team urged him to bow out then. At the time, the ex-governor told advisers he wanted to give it another month on the presidential campaign trail.

While Hickenlooper landed twice on the debate stage, he failed to emerge from polling in the single digits. His decision to drop out came after careful thought over the last month and amid lagging fundraising. He was not expected to qualify for the September debates, which the campaign expected would only further hinder his polling and fundraising, a campaign staffer said.

The decision to terminate his campaign also came as Hickenlooper contemplates a Senate run. In his video statement, Hickenlooper said he’s heard from many Coloradans who want him to jump into the race against vulnerable Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.

“They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state,” Hickenlooper said. “I intend to give that some serious thought.”


While Hickenlooper appeared at a major Democratic Party event in Iowa over the weekend, he broke away to take a private drive with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a meeting first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by the campaign source, further fueling speculation about his future plans. Gardner is a top target for Senate Democrats in 2020.

Hickenlooper and his team have not reached out directly to potential rival Democratic candidates currently running for Senate, according to several Democrats who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Several of the candidates signaled last week that they would be unlikely to drop out of the race if Hickenlooper ran. They reiterated that position Thursday.

Former state Sen. Mike Johnston, whose Senate campaign outraised Hickenlooper’s presidential bid last quarter, said in a statement that the former governor had a “distinguished career of service” and faced an “enormous choice” in the coming weeks about joining the Senate race but that he is running because he is best positioned to defeat Gardner.

“I am so grateful for the support we have received from people in places across the state, am energized by the campaign that lies ahead, and excited to win back control of the Senate and get to work for the people of Colorado,” Johnston said.

Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, another candidate already in the race, said in a local radio interview Thursday that Hickenlooper’s decision would have no effect on his own candidacy.

“What I heard Gov. Hickenlooper tell everybody who asked is that he wasn’t cut out to be a senator and didn’t want the job. I respect that,” Romanoff said. “I’m trying to focus on the things I can control and John’s decision isn’t one of them."

And Angela Williams, a state senator among the Democrats already running for Senate, said of a potential Hickenlooper bid: “This won’t be a coronation.”

“He spent his time in Iowa running for president and as governor working and campaigning against bold, progressive solutions that will move Colorado and the country forward,” Williams said in a statement. “If he’s going to switch gears and run for the Senate, he has a lot to explain to Colorado voters.”


Hickenlooper launched his longshot White House bid in March but was soon overshadowed by the much-anticipated entry of former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke into the race.

While the former governor raised more than $1 million in the first 48 hours, it turned out to be the high water mark of his fundraising: Hickenlooper finished the entire second quarter raising just $1 million and only amassing 13,000 donors over the course of his campaign.

Almost half of the $3 million he raised in the first four months of his campaign came from Colorado, where Hickenlooper has a strong base of high-dollar donors. But in a presidential primary where small-dollar donations are king, his local fundraising strength exposed his weakness on a national stage with bigger names and higher profiles.

Hickenlooper acknowledged that he wasn’t always effective in communicating his message, a real handicap in an ultra-crowded primary.

“With so many candidates, it’s hard to get the voice out there, and I’m not sure—I’m not always the perfect spokesperson for my own — for my own ideas,” he told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin in July.

He awkwardly dodged questions about whether he was a capitalist in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in March and asked CNN’s Dana Bash during a televised town hall later that month why women aren’t asked if they would choose a man as a running mate if they were to win the nomination.

He later sharpened his centrist-oriented message and took direct aim at Sen. Bernie Sanders in a speech decrying socialism at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and found himself booed at the California Democratic Convention for his critique of socialism.


All along, dating back to before he launched his presidential campaign, Hickenlooper faced pressure to run for Senate — from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto.

By the summer, even his senior team was urging him to drop out of the presidential race and consider a run for Senate. His top aides saw the writing on the wall in late May or early June, shortly after the DNC released the next set of criteria to qualify for the September debate. They knew that unless Hickenlooper stood out in the second debate, his campaign had little chance of breaking through.

They told him he had two months left and tried to map out a strategy for those final eight weeks, a source familiar with the situation said. But Hickenlooper disagreed with that assessment.

“He just didn’t accept that that was the reality, that we only had two months left,” the source said.

After a handful of aides left the campaign — including campaign manager Brad Komar — Hickenlooper hired M.E. Smith to lead his operation and installed a new team around her. Two of those departing aides, national finance director Dan Sorenson and communications director Lauren Hitt, joined O’Rourke’s team.

Hickenlooper has repeatedly insisted he’s not cut out to be a senator. Still, he met with Schumer in New York earlier this month. And earlier this week, 314 Action Fund launched a six-figure digital campaign to draft Hickenlooper into the Senate race. The Democratic outside group supports candidates like Hickenlooper with science backgrounds — he was a geologist before starting a brewpub in Denver, where he later won election to two terms as mayor.

One reason the Senate could be unappealing to Hickenlooper: Then-Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Bennet to the Senate over Hickenlooper in 2009 after Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar was tapped to be interior secretary, and Hickenlooper would find himself as the state’s junior senator to his former chief of staff.

And as a longtime executive in his late 60s, Hickenlooper would be relegated to flying back and forth to Washington to serve in the Senate minority, where he’d have limited influence.

But Democrats in Colorado see a Senate run from Hickenlooper as all-but-assured.

“It does look like he’s making a decision really fast,” said one Democratic operative in the state, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Everyone in Colorado assumes he’s running.”


Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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