DENVER – He once said he wasn’t “cut out to be senator,” but former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday jumped into the state’s crowded Democratic Senate primary field, a week after giving up his long-shot bid for the 2020 presidential nomination.
The announcement came as a surprise to nobody in Colorado politics, even though Mr. Hickenlooper has long maintained that his skill set is more suited to the executive branch than the legislature.
“Look, I’m a straight shooter,” Mr. Hickenlooper said in his launch video, holding a cue stick at a pool table. “I’ve always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who wants to get things done. But this is no time to walk away from the table.”
Also unlikely to walk away are the 11 Democrats already vying for the party’s nomination to run against vulnerable Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in a state steadily shifting from purple to blue.
Democrats and Republicans alike accused the former two-term governor of treating the Senate like a parting gift. As recently as July, Mr. Hickenlooper said he didn’t think the Senate was “my calling.” In February, he told Politico, “I’m not cut out to be a senator.”
“Running for US Senate isn’t a consolation prize for losing a presidential primary,” tweeted Colorado Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Keith Barnish. “Hickenlooper repeatedly said he didn’t want the job and would be bad at it. Colorado is ready for a new generation of progressive leadership.”
Even the Onion weighed in with a satirical post, “Struggling Hickenlooper drops out of Colorado Senate race to run for Jefferson County commissioner.”
Cracks aside, Mr. Hickenlooper immediately becomes the front-runner for the Democratic nod, the only candidate in the primary field who has won statewide, which he’s done twice.
An Emerson poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Hickenlooper beating Mr. Gardner by 53% to 40% in a hypothetical matchup. Even so, serious doubts have been raised about whether the ex-governor is too moderate to capture the left-trending party’s nomination.
During his five-month presidential primary campaign, Mr. Hickenlooper made several statements that could come back to haunt him in Colorado, including, “socialism is not the answer.”
“First of all, I don’t think any of the current Democratic candidates will quit the race when he gets in, and second of all, I don’t think that he would win a Democratic primary,” Colorado Republican strategist Dick Wadhams said this month.
Democrats already running for the Senate nod include several with state legislative experience: Former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, ex-House Majority Leader Alice Madden and state Sen. Angela Williams.
“There was a poll showing he had a big lead, and I certainly believe that, but I think Johnston is going to have enough money to run a decent campaign,” Mr. Wadhams said. “And they’re going to go right at his head.”
Mr. Hickenlooper wasn’t the only ex-presidential hopeful to downsize his goals. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday he would seek reelection, a day after exiting the 2020 Democratic contest.
Destined to plague Mr. Hickenlooper on the campaign trail is his environmental record, starting with his support for the state’s oil-and-gas business. A former industry geologist, he once drank fracking fluid to prove its safety.
“He’s definitely not somebody that we will support as a Senate candidate,” Michele Weindling, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement, told Westword. “There are a lot of candidates that are currently running on the idea of being a climate champion, and Hickenlooper is definitely not one of them.”
The article Wednesday was headlined, “As Hickenlooper Weighs a Senate Run, Climate Activists Hope He Stays Out.”
In his launch video, Mr. Hickenlooper cited issues with prescription drug costs, preexisting conditions, public lands and climate change while linking Mr. Gardner to President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I don’t think Cory Gardner understands that the games he’s playing with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are hurting the people of Colorado,” Mr. Hickenlooper said.
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