Former Colorado Governor Will End Struggling Presidential Campaign

by | August 15, 2019 AT 8:24 AM

By Eli Stokols

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will end a presidential campaign that never got off the ground Thursday morning and announce that he is seriously considering a run against Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, according to two people familiar with his plans.

A quirky businessman-turned-politician who failed to stand out in the crowded Democratic presidential primary field, Hickenlooper would be an immediate front-runner in another crowded field of Democratic Senate hopefuls eager to challenge Gardner, one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents seeking reelection next year in a state where President Donald Trump is deeply unpopular.

For months as he struggled to gain traction and raise money as a presidential candidate, Hickenlooper batted away questions about why he was running for president instead of challenging Gardner, saying at one point that he is "not cut out to be" a U.S. senator and repeatedly insisting that his skill set as an executive was a poor fit for a more deliberative role in Congress.

That line would no doubt be used against him should he run, although he is still considered an obvious front-runner in one of next year's most competitive and important Senate contests.

Although more than a dozen candidates are already running, none are as familiar to Colorado voters or as battle-tested in statewide races as the former two-term governor and Denver mayor.

That's the main reason Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, desperate to flip three seats next November to gain back control of the Senate, have continued to court Hickenlooper, despite his public protestations that the job of being in the U.S. Senate "didn't speak to" him.

As a presidential candidate, Hickenlooper only seemed to generate headlines when he misspoke: The former small-business owner refused to concede to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough that he was a "capitalist," then flipped his messaging around and explicitly ran against socialism. The only memorable moment from his only nationally televised town hall involved him acknowledging having accidentally taken his mother to see the infamous pornographic film "Deep Throat."

In July, he fired his campaign manager and communications director in an effort to revive his campaign, celebrating a poll that showed him at 2% as a major breakthrough.

But with the Democratic National Committee's debate qualifying criteria of 130,000 individual donors preventing him _ and several others _ from appearing in next month's debate, Hickenlooper began to look at the Senate race as an appealing off-ramp.

In Denver, a political consultant tied to Hickenlooper caused a stir when he bought several web domains that could be utilized for a Senate bid. And as the former governor considered his options while continuing to campaign for president in Iowa, a poll that showed him easily winning Colorado's Democratic Senate primary and defeating Gardner by 12 percentage points was leaked to the news media.

Despite the fondness for Hickenlooper back home, many of the Democrats already seeking the Senate nomination appear unlikely to step aside to clear the field for him if he declares his candidacy, and some may bristle at efforts by politicians in Washington to influence the race.

In the wide primary field, two candidates have already demonstrated an ability to raise money: former state Sen. Mike Johnston, a former educator from Denver, and Dan Baer, who was an Obama administration staffer.

John Walsh, who served as U.S. attorney in Denver during the Obama administration, is also running, as are Andrew Romanoff, a former statehouse speaker who has struggled to find a second act in politics since leaving the Legislature a decade ago, and Alice Madden, who served as House majority leader with Romanoff and also left public office in 2009.

(Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.)

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