Former Gov. John Hickenlooper has left the door open a crack to running against Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, even while insisting he's fully committed to pursuing the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
In an interview Sunday on satellite radio, Hickenlooper said he would "be a fool" to continue running for president if his standing in the polls doesn't improve.
"I've never ruled out anything," he told SiriusXM's Chris Frates — a former Denver Post reporter — when the Politics Inside Out host pressed him on a Senate bid. But the Democrat insisted his attention is "still 100% right now focused on being president."
Since launching his presidential bid in March, Hickenlooper has languished at or below 1% in most primary polls, and his fundraising has lagged many of the better-known candidates in a sprawling field of more than 20.
The popular former two-term governor has been facing increasing pressure to abandon his struggling White House bid and instead join the field hoping to unseat Gardner, one of only two Republican senators up for election in 2020 in states carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.
At last count, 10 Democrats were running in the Senate primary, but national and some local Democrats have been urging Hickenlooper to bring his outsized approval rating and unbroken record of electoral success to a contest that Democrats consider crucial to winning the majority in the GOP-controlled chamber.
"For the record, from his campaign spokesman, John Hickenlooper is 100% focused on running for president. He'll be in Iowa this week," Hickenlooper spokesman Peter Cunningham said Monday.
Hickenlooper embarks Tuesday on a scheduled five-day Winnebago tour of Iowa, set to culminate with an appearance Saturday at the Des Moines Register Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.
"What excites me is being in those executive positions and put a team together, I can win a campaign that people say I can't, and then we do the things that people say can't be done. That's what excites me," Hickenlooper told Frates on Sunday. "Again, at a certain point, if I can't get myself beyond 2%, I'd be a — I'd be a fool to spend two years doing it."
Asked whether that meant he might run against Gardner, Hickenlooper said, "What I'm focused on, and what I continue to talk about is, I won't have a chance of running for president if I don't focus 100% on, you know, on my primary objective. The moment I start having a bunch of side meetings and talking with my staff — 'What about this, should we consider that?' — then you begin to lose your focus, and you diminish your opportunity to succeed in what is admittedly a very difficult objective. So we are still 100% right now focused on being president."
Pressed to say whether he would rule out jumping to the Senate race, Hickenlooper responded: "I've never ruled out anything."
During his final year as governor, Hickenlooper batted back questions about a rumored presidential bid with a similar argument, saying his entire focus was on finishing the job rather than entering into discussions that could be distracting.
In mid September last year, nearly four months before his term ended, Hickenlooper formed a leadership PAC to explore a presidential run and within a week was traveling to campaign in battleground states.
A Fox News poll released July 25 showed Hickenlooper with 2% support, sandwiched between U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas and good enough for ninth place in the Democratic field.
"This is huge. We need to keep up the momentum," he trumpeted in an email to supporters before asking for a campaign contribution.
According to Real Clear Politics, Hickenlooper hasn't done better than 1% in any of the eight Democratic primary polls released since the Fox News survey. As of Monday afternoon, the political data site had his current polling average at 0.2%.
As things stand, Hickenlooper isn't on track to make the cut for the Democrats' third primary debate in September, when polling and fundraising requirements increase substantially from what was needed to make the first two debates.
Hickenlooper on Sunday called on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to take up gun-control legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House in the wake of mass shootings that killed at least 29 people and injured dozens more in Texas and Ohio.
In a tweet Monday afternoon, Hickenlooper blasted McConnell for blocking gun measures in the Senate, charging that the Kentucky Republican is committing "political malpractice."
Last week, a Democratic campaign consultant told Colorado Politics he registered website domain names for a potential Hickenlooper Senate run — including Hick4Senate.com and HickenlooperSenate.com — so they will be available in case Hickenlooper jumps.
"I wanted to make sure that nobody could go out and squat on them," said Curtis Hubbard, a principle at OnSight Public Affairs. "I wanted to make sure that if he did decide to run for Senate, that those would be available to him."
Hubbard insisted he secured the domains without any encouragement from Hickenlooper or his presidential campaign after the candidate failed to make a splash in the primary debateon July 30, when Hickenlooper spoke fewer words and had less screen time than any of the other nine candidates on stage.
A recent poll found Hickenlooper would be the overwhelming favorite for the U.S. Senate nomination — with more than three times the support for the next-closest declared Democratic candidate — and Colorado Politics reported last week that another poll has recently been in the field testing voters' reactions to Hickenlooper switching races.