Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential contest last week, has launched a bid for a U.S. Senate seat with the aim of ousting Cory Gardner, regarded as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans in 2020.
In an announcement video posted Wednesday night, Hickenlooper proclaims himself a “straight shooter” as he’s seen playing pool in a Denver brewpub he co-founded.
“I’ve always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who wants to get things done, but this is no time to walk away from the table,” the former two-term governor says. “I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot. I’m not done fighting for the people of Colorado.”
In the video, Hickenlooper pledges to work on several issues, including protecting the health insurance of people with preexisting conditions, lowering prescription drug prices, combating climate change and protecting public lands.
Hickenlooper had been under pressure from national and state Democrats to abandon his presidential ambitions to challenge Gardner in what the party views as a prime pickup opportunity next year in the Senate.
Gardner narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent Mark Udall in Colorado’s 2014 Senate race. After the 2018 midterm elections, he became the only Republican holding statewide elected office in Colorado.
Hickenlooper told The Durango Herald on Thursday his decision to enter the Senate race came down to a simple question.
“I had to make a decision: do I just criticize Washington or do I try to fix it?” he said.
Hickenlooper billed himself as an independent voice able to bring sides together who disagree – something he said Washington is missing. He disapproved of Gardner’s voting record, saying he has sided with President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky too often.
“He’s become a yes man for President Trump and Mitch McConnell,” he said.
Gardner has spoken out against Trump’s trade war, though his stance hasn’t deterred Trump from using tariffs to combat unfair trade practices.
Hickenlooper was also critical of Gardner’s reluctance to sponsor legislation expanding Colorado’s wilderness areas, which is something senators from Colorado have done for decades, he said.
While Hickenlooper refrained from supporting the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act because he hasn’t studied it closely enough, he voiced support for stronger wilderness protections in general.
Hickenlooper is the 12th to join the Democratic primary field, about which he said there is a lot of talent. His experience as a business owner and as a winner of two statewide races for governor set him apart, he said.
Hickenlooper’s announcement upends a crowded Democratic primary field in Colorado. A recent 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 likely voters. The nearest rival came in at 10 percent.
Hickenlooper, who finished his tenure as governor at the beginning of the year, had struggled to translate his popularity in Colorado to the presidential race. In a field of more than 20 candidates, Hickenlooper remained stuck near the bottom of the pack, struggling 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.
In a video released at the end of his presidential bid, Hickenlooper pledged to give the Senate race “some serious thought.”
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 his Senate announcement video, Hickenlooper takes aim not only at Gardner, but also at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and President Donald Trump.
“I don’t think Cory Gardner understands that the games he’s playing with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are hurting the people of Colorado,” Hickenlooper says. “We ought to be working together to move this country forward, and stop the political nonsense.”
Herald Staff Writer James Marshall contributed to this report.