Littwin: With Hickenlooper’s campaign in shambles, he throws departing staff under the bus

John Hickenlooper launches his presidential campaign at Denver Civic Center on March 7, 2019 (Photo by Evan Semón)
John Hickenlooper launches his presidential campaign at Denver Civic Center on March 7, 2019. He will soon launch a new campaign — this time for the U.S Senate — according to several people close to him. (Photo by Evan Semón)

If you haven’t heard by now about John Hickenlooper’s imploding presidential campaign, the Politico headline pretty much says it all: “Hickenlooper campaign in shambles.”

Politico reported first that Hickenlooper’s senior staff — most of which has already left or is planning to leave — advised him in May to drop out of the race and either run for Senate or do something else. 

A source close to the campaign has confirmed to me that the Politico story is accurate. The source also said that Hickenlooper was told by senior staff in May that if he didn’t break out during the June debate that they were all planning to jump ship. And so they have.

Not only did Hick not fare well in the debate, critics said fellow Coloradan and longtime political ally, Michael Bennet, had fared much better, although neither got any bump in the first post-debate polls. In a sampling of Hickenlooper reviews, Politico called Hick “a wet blanket” and conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens said Hick and other moderates on the stage “came across as square dancers at a rave.” In a race where debates will be critical, Hickenlooper is an ineffective debater, and it showed.

Politico also reported that Hickenlooper has raised money from only 13,000 donors. That number was also confirmed to me. That’s even more disastrous than his all-but-invisible polling numbers. It’s even more disastrous than his reported quarterly fundraising total of just over $1 million.

To qualify for the third Democratic debate in September, Hickenlooper would need 130,000 donors. I’d rate his chances of reaching the donor number much the same as pollsters put his polling numbers — somewhere under 1 percent. To put this in perspective, Andrew Yang’s campaign just announced he has reached 130,000 donors. 

Nothing Hick has done has worked, which, as anyone who knows Hickenlooper can tell you, is a very difficult proposition for him to accept. He’s used to winning. And so now, in an interview with MSNBC, Hickenlooper said that maybe he had hired the wrong staff. It looks more to me like the staff may have picked the wrong candidate.

Five staffers have left or are leaving. Despite what Hick implied, apparently four of the staffers are leaving of their own accord. For Brad Komar, the campaign manager, it was more like a mutual decision, which is political talk for being at least semi-fired. 

And yet, Hick told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin: “We thought it was time to make a change. You know, these campaigns are long, hard campaigns and you don’t always get it right with the first team.”

If this sounds a lot to you like throwing his staff under the bus, it does to me, too. And it also does to Hick’s staff, some of whom were not at all happy with his analysis. I would put it down as the seen-only-in-private Hickenlooper temper coming to the fore. Hick said during the MSNBC interview that he wasn’t always his own best messenger, which suggests that somebody else should be. That is not how it works.

Hickenlooper has now hired M.E. Smith as campaign manager. She has served as a deputy campaign manager in races for both Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet. The Colorado Democrats I talked to had nothing but praise for her, but campaigns are only as good as their candidate. I reached out to the campaign to ask about the shakeup, but was not able to reach Hickenlooper as this column was being published.

The fact that it’s pretty much over for Hickenlooper would seem to be obvious. But this is the same Hickenlooper who was convinced that he had a real shot at becoming a legitimate contender for the Democratic nomination in the first place.

As I may have pointed out when he entered the race, he has no real base, he has little connection nationally among minority communities, he has a fracking issue with environmentalists, he has few allies in labor. Having been a small-business person is not exactly the message required to win the Democratic nomination. Having been a successful two-term governor should be a better message, but, strangely, none of the governors in the race seem to be making much headway.

The way Hickenlooper turned around his long-ago campaign when he was a longshot candidate for mayor was to employ his quirky and winning personality. He won four races with that combination.

But this stage is, literally, too big. His real shot at quirkiness came and went with the story of taking his mother to see “Deep Throat.” I thought it was a semi-endearing story actually, but most of America just found it weird. They found it weird, too, when Hickenlooper wouldn’t quite admit to being a “capitalist,” as if he had ever questioned that point before.

When he went on his anti-socialism tear, he was booed by California activists — which was either a plan gone bad or just a misreading of the politics. As any insider can tell you, Trump will brand any Democratic nominee as socialist — even Hickenlooper, if he were to somehow make it that far. Republicans called Barack Obama a socialist in 2008 — that is, when he wasn’t being called a Kenyan anti-colonialist.

The only socialist — a democratic socialist — in the field is Bernie Sanders, and when Hickenlooper had his chance during the debate to take on Sanders, he basically wimped out. In his defense, The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote a mostly favorable piece on Hickenlooper’s war on socialism.

I was told by another Hickenlooper insider that Hick’s plan is now to make the argument that with Biden possibly beginning to falter, he could be the candidate best suited to win over the Midwest working-class vote that Trump rode to an Electoral College victory. There are many problems here, though. One is that Pete Buttigieg, who raised $24.8 million from more than 294,000 donors in the last quarter is from the Midwest. So is Amy Klobuchar. Biden, who has made electability the basis for his campaign, is still leading in the polls. And if Kamala Harris continues to rise in the polls, she will likely have to show distance at some point between her and Elizabeth Warren, which would mean Harris moving at least somewhat toward the center.

It is being reported that Hickenlooper has the money to last only another month on the trail. Obviously he needs to find a way to raise substantially more money. And he needs a major breakthrough in the second round of debates on July 30-31. If Hickenlooper’s senior staff didn’t think it was possible, it’s hard to see who would.


  1. Sounds like someone has already led Hick to water but he ain’t drinking it.

    That’s too bad. No sense throwing good money in the fire. Time for a pivot to Senate.

  2. In some weird way, I’m disappointed but why? We’ve already seen how an elected official with an out sized ego can destroy everything in their path.

  3. Pretty good story, except fore the ” successful 2 term governor” part. What was he successful at? Left a understaffed and demoralized state employment system, an imploding State corrections system, and the best known aspect of his leadership was the complete absence of it. Ask anyone at the Capitol and they will tell you it was Donna Lynne who ran things for the last 4 years. Her biggest handicap in 2018 governors race was being associated with Hicky.
    Hickenlopper go home and spare us your tortured and tired neo-liberal Hogwash. Don’t you have some race horses to breed or Ferrari’s to polish?

  4. If he needs to raise money..All the candidate’s are learning or speak Spanish..go down to the border and traffic illegal aliens.. Billion’s to be made down there. and lot’s of vote’s.

    And this time “the buck will stop here”..

  5. I have a hard time imagining the pitch to significant donors at this point. Doesn’t seem to be a viable candidate, with at least 8 candidates ahead of him. Doesn’t seem to be a likely option to take out support from some other candidate. Doesn’t seem to have a clear policy stance to advance. So why would someone drop in $1,000 — or even $500.

    Giddy Up! may not have been an effective message in the current transportation era.

  6. As a lifelong Democrat I have nothing good to say about Hick other than he won two terms as governor and kept a repub from occupying the position. But that is where it ends because he never championed any Democratic causes or issues. He drug his feet on anything that might move him to the left – his pro-fracking stance is case in point.

    But the final straw for me was during the debate when he started listing his accomplishments as governor and named getting cannabis legalized as one of them. Hick was against cannabis and NEVER said a good word about it. Kind of strange from an alcohol peddler who wanted to be viewed as a progressive by the left (but was really more of a friend of big business).

    He needs to retire to his brewpub. Permanently.

  7. I feel almost offended when I read, Oh well, Hick can’t win the Presidency (as if anybody with a brain ever thought he could) but now he can take on Corey Gardner,” when he has stated, loudly and clearly, that he doesn’t WANT to be a Senator–apparently not a sufficiently powerful position to satisfy his bloated Hubris. I don’t know about other Coloradans, but I don’t want to elect a senator who might want to be senator only as a second rate, basically undesirable, fall back position. What kind of bs is that?

  8. Agree, Vicki…. It’s not a consolation prize that one gets to feel entitled to.
    Some candidates really want the job, have already been campaigning hard for it, and are much better choices.

  9. In defense of Hick, if he wanted to be taken seriously as presidential candidate, he had to say he wasn’t interested in running for the Senate. On the other hand, it’s fair to ask why he thought he had a chance to win presidential nomination.

  10. Hick has officially jumped the shark. Do they still say that? He’s giving really horrible interviews. I’m not sure who is handling him right now, but it’s clearly not going well.

  11. Hickenlooper was always sanctuary state and there is evidence he wanted illegal aliens to come flooding into Colorado to help in drug trafficking and the hundreds of billions of dollars in that game– which he no doubt profited in.
    No other governor in the history of the State of Colorado made more exemptions and exceptions for illegal aliens in welfare benefits cash, medical care, food stamps and free housing with Boulder Housing Partners who actively secrets illegal aliens whereabouts and provides them with Sec 8 housing for free BUT WHICH THE TAXPAYERS MUST PAY FOR. Hickenlooper needs a lot of workers in the durg trafficking industry.
    Hickenlooper appointed the two worst sanctuary city judges in Boulder– Nancy Salomone and good ol’ Kristy A. Martinez whose race hate of “whites” is disgusting — and both of these scurrilous dishonest judges rig cases to keep the sanctuary city status quo against “whites”
    That is what Hickenlooper is all about.

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