Mike Johnston Bows Out Of The 2020 Senate Race

Mike Johnston
David Zalubowski/AP
Mike Johnston responds to a question during a televised debate for governor in Denver, June 18, 2018. Johnston was the first prominent Democrat to announce a challenge to Cory Gardner for his senate seat.

On Tuesday, former state Sen. Michael Johnston left the crowded Democratic primary field that wants to take on incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. Johnston led Democrats in fundraising and was seen as one of the front runners.

But after former Gov. John Hickenlooper entered the race, Johnston told CPR didn't see a path to victory.

“I think before he entered the race, we thought we had a very good path to victory from building a positive case for what we wanted to do and how we wanted to get it done,” Johnston said. "I think after [Hickenlooper] entered that just requires a different kind of campaign, which is, now you have to convince people about why not John Hickenlooper as opposed to why yes to Mike Johnston.”

Johnston came in third in the Democratic primary for governor in 2018, but many political insiders saw that effort as a way to set the stage for a future Senate bid. He was one of the first to enter the race to challenge Gardner back in January.

Johnston grew up in Vail and served two terms in the state senate. Before that, he had been a teacher and a high school principal. He has been relatively quiet since Hickenlooper entered the race, unlike some of the other 11 candidates. He says running a negative primary won't help Democrats in the long run.

“I do think it's important in this moment to zoom out and realize the thing that we all agree on is far more important than things that we disagree on,” Johnston said. “We need a very strong coalition behind a strong candidate to win the general election. And we don't want to do anything that weakens our chances to do that.”

Johnston said he hasn't yet decided what's next for him but he said he's “not going away” and will continue to work to advance the issues he cares deeply about.

Gov. Jared Polis said that Johnston “is an inspirational, smart, and effective leader and I know that our state and nation will continue to benefit from his desire to create real change.”

Hickenlooper has the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and endorsements from national Democrats such as Pete Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden. The national support angered some of the candidates currently in the primary.

The presidential candidate turned senatorial hopeful tweeted that Johnston was “a friend, a tremendous public servant and a great Coloradan.”