It ‘Won’t Be A Coronation’: Hickenlooper Faces Another Crowded Race If He Jumps In For Senate

August 16, 2019
John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperJohn Locher/AP
Former Democratic president candidate John Hickenlooper walks on stage before speaking at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Former presidential candidate John Hickenlooper has repeatedly in the past said he wasn’t interested in running for the U.S Senate, yet he left the door wide open on Thursday. In his video that announced the end of his White House bid, he said a lot of Coloradans were urging him to get into the race and he would give it “some serious thought.” 

Despite his almost universal name recognition and popularity in Colorado, his potential competitors aren’t backing down in their own bids to try and defeat Republican Senator Cory Gardner.  

“I like John a lot. I've known him for 20 years. I consider him a friend,” said former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. “I'm running for the U.S. Senate because we need leaders who are going to fight for Medicare For All, a Green New Deal, an economy that works for everyone. That's not going to happen if Democrats don't lead the fight.” 

There are currently 11 names in the ring who want the Democratic nomination, as well as a few others still rumored to be considering a bid, like Hickenlooper.

Romanoff has run for Congress before and has already received endorsements from several hundred local officials, including Anne McGihon, another former state representative. She said she is also donating money to former U.S. Attorney John Walsh and former state House Majority Leader Alice Madden. 

“I have three good friends who are running and the grassroots has been working really hard.”

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Alice Madden, a former Colorado House majority leader, at a picnic-style candidate forum hosted by Indivisible Denver hosted for Democrats running to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020 at Barnum Park on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

The slate of Democratic candidates that Hickenlooper might parachute into is diverse and includes a variety of professional backgrounds, different ethnicities, members of the LGBTQ community and several women. 

Madden said she can only run her own race and noted she’s been clear on the reasons for her candidacy. She said Colorado is long past due for a female senator or governor.

“I would be our first female U.S. Senator in Colorado which would be historic,” she said. “But I’m also the strongest environmentalist and clean energy champion in the race which I think is something Colorado really needs.”

Current state Sen. Angela Williams, who is also in the race, said the former governor did not push for bold or “progressive solutions” while he led the state or during the presidential campaign.

Hickenlooper notably staked out a pragmatic position that stood in stark contrast to progressive appeals to the base. He warned against any embrace of socialism, Medicaid For All and the Green New Deal.

“If he’s going to switch gears and run for the senate, he has a lot to explain to Colorado voters,” Williams said in a statement. “This won’t be a coronation.”

Some Democratic voters don’t like Hickenlooper’s support for the oil and gas industry, and opposition to stricter local bans on hydraulic fracturing. Former Senate President John Morse is not running, but backs Michael Johnston. They served in the state Senate together.  

Morse’s top issue is gun control because he is just “sick to death of our children dying.”  

“I have been very supportive and respectful of John Hickenlooper,” Morse said. “That was before he paraded around the country taking credit for things that he didn't do.” 

Hickenlooper relied heavily on his record as Colorado’s two-term governor, frequently saying he was the “one person who's actually done what everyone else is talking about.” Morse is referring to universal background checks and the high capacity magazine ban Hickenlooper spoke about in his presidential campaign.

Morse does give him credit for signing the bill into law in 2013.

RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post, RJ Sangosti/Pool
Gov. John Hickenlooper signs gun control measures at the state Capitol in 2013.

“But did he come to us at the beginning of that 2013 session, which was six months after Aurora and six weeks after Newtown with a policy agenda that he wanted to pass on the issue of gun violence? No, he did not. Did he help us get the votes that we needed? No.”

Morse was recalled from office for backing background checks and the magazine ban after both became law. He still bristles at the aftermath of the new laws.

“[Hickenlooper] was recorded as apologizing to the sheriffs for doing this. You know, I mean that was just unconscionable.”

During his presidential run, Hickenlooper called for national gun licensing, an increase to the age for purchasing firearms and a national magazine limit. 

Yet the criticism from Morse on gun policy is one reason Dick Wadhams, a former GOP state party chair, said it’s clear it will not be like when Gardner got into the 2014 Senate race and cleared the GOP field. 

“There really was almost unanimity that Cory would've been the strongest candidate. People wanted him to run for Senate for months before he finally decided to.” 

Wadhams said Hickenlooper will need to show he really wants the job.

“I just can't help the belief this is more of a consolation prize for him. This is the only thing available to him since his failed presidential campaign.” 

Hickenlooper previously had relatively easy election campaigns and presided over Colorado’s booming economic growth with strong approval ratings. Two recent polls by Democratic groups showed Hickenlooper easily winning a Democratic primary and in one poll it showed he would handily beat Gardner. One Democrat who is excited about a potential Hickenlooper run is Curtis Hubbard, the political strategist who registered  “Hickenlooper4Senate.com” to draft him into the race.

Hubbard said he’ll be the most formidable challenger for a seat Democrats need to win if they hope to take control of the U.S. Senate. Hickenlooper would be the only candidate in the Democratic field who has won a statewide office and he still has a positive reputation in Colorado. 

“Cory Gardner is the most vulnerable Senate candidate in the country and John Hickenlooper can defeat him and make Mitch McConnell the minority leader.”

As for Gardner — he said Thursday he’s not phased by one more person potentially entering the race against him. When asked by CPR about Hickenlooper considering a Senate bid, he quipped, “Well, who isn’t?”