Progress Iowa Corn Feed

Former presidential candidate John Hickenlooper speaks to the crowd at the annual Progress Iowa Corn Feed in July in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday that he’s ending his Democratic presidential campaign and giving “some serious thought” to running for U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s seat in 2020.

“Today, I’m ending my campaign for president. But I will never stop believing that America can only move forward when we work together,” said the geologist-turned-brewpub founder in a video posted to his campaign website.

“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.”

“There has been no decision yet about the Senate race,” a spokeswoman for Hickenlooper’s campaign said. But sources close to the candidate say he is leaning strongly toward running and could announce his decision within days.

As his longshot presidential campaign failed to catch fire, Hickenlooper faced increasing pressure from some Democrats to take on Republican Gardner, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent senators up for election next year.

Until last week, Hickenlooper shrugged off encouragement to switch to that race, even in May, when senior campaign staffers urged him to do so but wound up being replaced themselves.

Since a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York after the Democratic primary debate in late July, though, Hickenlooper cracked the door open, refusing to rule out a Senate run.

And in recent weeks, advocacy groups and other Democrats ramped up efforts to pave the way for a Hickenlooper Senate candidacy, releasing polls that showed he would be the clear favorite in a sprawling primary field and launching a campaign to draft him into the race.

A Democratic consultant whose firm has handled previous Hickenlooper campaigns — and who drew attention in early August when he registered website domains for a potential Hickenlooper Senate bid — laid out the welcome mat Thursday after Hickenlooper’s announcement.

“John Hickenlooper took a difficult step this morning,” said Curtis Hubbard, a principle at Onsight Public Affairs and a former Denver Post editor. “Now it’s incumbent that we urge him to take the next step: to enter the U.S. Senate race and make Cory Gardner a one-term senator.”

State Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, one of 11 declared Democratic candidates for Gardner’s seat, offered a different sort of welcome.

“I’m sorry Gov. Hickenlooper’s presidential race didn’t work out,” she said in a statement. “But 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. If he’s going to switch gears and run for the Senate, he has a lot to explain to Colorado voters. This won’t be a coronation.”

Other Democrats in the Senate primary gave no indication they plan to back down if Hickenlooper joins the field.

Lauding his “distinguished career of service that has changed Colorado for the better,” former state Sen. Mike Johnston said he understands “the enormous choice he’ll make in the coming weeks about whether or not to join the Senate race.”

“I decided to run for U.S. Senate for two simple reasons,” Johnston said. “First, I think I’m the right candidate to relentlessly challenge and defeat Cory Gardner, and I know I can effectively work in the Senate to make progress on the issues that matter most, like the climate crisis, gun safety and health care.”

Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff — who has embraced proposals denounced by Hickenlooper as “extreme” and “socialist” — drew an implicit contrast with his old friend.

“We’re running out of time to rescue our planet, repair our democracy, and restore the American Dream. We need leaders who will fight for a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and an economy that works for everyone. That’s the kind of senator I will be,” he said in a statement.

In a radio interview Thursday, Romanoff called out Hickenlooper more directly: “What I heard Gov. Hickenlooper tell everybody who asked is, he wasn’t cut out to be a senator and didn’t want the job.”

Hickenlooper routinely made such remarks when asked whether he was considering switching races. They have been seized upon by Republicans eager to point out that the potential Senate candidate has described himself as unsuited to the job.

But in a fundraising email sent to supporters minutes after Hickenlooper’s announcement, Romanoff all but offered the former governor a gold watch for his service.

“I have enormous respect and affection for Governor Hickenlooper, a man I’ve been proud to call a friend for twenty years,” Romanoff wrote. “I have no doubt he’ll continue to use his considerable talents to advance our nation’s interests in the years ahead. I wish him well in that pursuit.”

Democratic primary voters spoiling for a fight with President Donald Trump appeared to be indifferent to the collaborative approach to politics that Hickenlooper said he honed for years managing restaurants and breweries he co-owned across Colorado and the Midwest.

When they weren’t mangling — or mocking — his lengthy last name, pundits and late-night comics raised skeptical eyebrows at Hickenlooper’s contention that he could break legislative logjams by engaging in earnest conversation with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the same way he bridged divides with metro-area mayors when he was mayor of Denver.

After refusing for days to call himself a capitalist, Hickenlooper went on the offensive against some of his fellow presidential candidates’ more liberal proposals, arguing they risked handing the election to Trump. He was booed when he told a convention hall full of California Democrats that “socialism is not the answer.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a former Hickenlooper chief of staff and the Coloradan still running for president, issued this statement after his former boss withdrew:

“John was a great mayor and governor, and helped shape the presidential race with his pragmatic viewpoint. He provided a valuable voice in this primary, bringing the ideas and solutions he successfully championed in Colorado to the national debate.”

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