Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper withdrew from the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday, announcing in a video that he is considering a run for Senate.
“I ran for president because this country is being ripped apart by politics and partisan games while our biggest problems go unsolved,” Hickenlooper said in the video, which was released Thursday afternoon. “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 had been under pressure from national and state Democrats to abandon his presidential ambitions and to instead challenge Sen. Cory Gardner, who is regarded as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans in 2020.
In the video, Hickenlooper touted his record on health care, gun control and job growth in Colorado and said he is seriously weighing a Senate bid.
“People want to know what comes next for me,” he said. “I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate. They remind me how much is at stake for our country and our state. I intend to give that some serious thought.”
Three Democrats with knowledge of the situation had earlier told The Washington Post that Hickenlooper was planning to exit the White House race. The Associated Press reported that the announcement would come Thursday.
Hickenlooper has held conversations recently with national and state Democrats about the possibility of a Senate run, and a recent poll showed that he would be the strong favorite to win the Democratic Senate primary.
The former two-term governor began to inform people in Colorado on Wednesday of his likely decision to quit the presidential race, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
One Colorado Democrat said Hickenlooper will spend time now preparing for a possible Senate campaign, with a focus on a fundraising network and an organization while building as much anticipation as possible. Hickenlooper had been told by some donors that, were he to shift to the Senate race, they were prepared to raise substantial amounts of money in his behalf.
Hickenlooper, who finished his tenure as governor at the beginning of the year, had struggled to translate his popularity in Colorado to the national campaign. In a field of more than 20 candidates, Hickenlooper remained mired near the bottom of the pack, scratching to top 1 percent in most national polls.
He participated in the first two debates, in Miami and Detroit, but did not meet the qualifications established by the Democratic National Committee for the third debate, which will be held in Houston in mid-September.
Hickenlooper governed as a business-friendly Democrat in Colorado while advocating some progressive policies. He positioned himself in the nomination contest as a pragmatic moderate.
In the first two debates he challenged progressives like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for their advocacy of Medicare-for-all and other programs that come with sizable price tags. Hickenlooper said he preferred a more incremental approach, including adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act. He described this as an “evolution, not a revolution.”
“If we turn towards socialism, we run the risk of helping to reelect the worst president in American history,” he said in Miami. In Detroit, he warned that some elements in the Green New Deal, a proposal to deal with climate change, are so controversial that, by advocating them, Democrats “might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump.”
Those warnings, however, failed to find an audience among Democratic voters, with former vice president Joe Biden occupying the space Hickenlooper sought to fill and other candidates also seeking to emerge as an alternative to Biden and in contrast to candidates like Warren and Sanders.
The Senate campaign would offer Hickenlooper a fresh opportunity to take his political career to the national level. A poll conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group for an unnamed national organization showed Hickenlooper with a massive lead in a potential Democratic Senate primary, favored by 61 percent of Democrats. The nearest rival came in at 10 percent.
Hickenlooper has indicated to people he knows that he would start a campaign for the Senate as the strongest Democratic in the field and has hinted that he will make a decision about a possible Senate bid in the very near future.
The Democratic Senate primary has been drawing a large field of candidates in Hickenlooper’s absence. His political allies hope his decision to quit the presidential race will prompt some of those candidates to forgo their bids for the Senate. Last week, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold announced that she would not seek the party’s nomination in that race.
On Thursday, Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of the Colorado House who is running for Senate, tweeted congratulations to Hickenlooper “on a difficult decision and an amazing journey.” Romanoff said he was “proud to call [Hickenlooper] a friend” but did not mention the Senate race or Hickenlooper’s possible entry into the race.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, meanwhile, used Hickenlooper’s exit from the presidential race to argue that he was “not left-wing enough” for Democratic primary voters.
“A two-term governor of a swing state and #2020 presidential #Democrat candidate who was booed for warning against his party’s embrace of socialist policies has been forced out of the race,” she said in a tweet.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Dan Balz, Felicia Sonmez