Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 15 to reflect John Hickenlooper’s announcement he will not seek the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.
This was inevitable. It’s what happens when you’re running out of money, when your polls range somewhere between 0 and 1%, when your staff has dumped you, when your only viral moments tend to run toward stories about you, your mom and a porn movie, when your debate performances go sideways, when you finally start saying in interviews that maybe a Senate run wouldn’t be the worst thing.
So now that the presidential race is over, the question is whether Hickenlooper does, in fact, run for Senate against Cory Gardner.
The answer, I’m thinking, has to be yes. It seems to me that if he weren’t planning to run for Senate, he would have just said so. He has sufficiently roiled the field, and taking too much time to mull — one of Hickenlooper’s long time tactics — would just risk increasing the anger from his potential rivals if/when he gets in. Here’s the money quote from Hick’s announcement:
“People want to know what comes next for me. 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 it some serious thought.”
He’ll give it thought and he’ll wait a decent interval, and though I doubt many of those in the race would drop out, he would then suck much of the energy from the race and much of the money, too. He may have had trouble raising money for a presidential run, but that would all change with a Senate run.
You couldn’t have missed the pre-game polling — Hickenlooper more than lapping the primary field if he got in, and Hickenlooper 13 points ahead of Cory Gardner in a prospective run — and what has looked for the last few days as inevitable. No one could blame you, in fact, if you wonder if the draft-Hickenlooper timing seemed strangely perfect. I know I thought from the beginning that Hick would end up in just this place.
If Hickenlooper is coming home to Colorado, he’ll be bringing more than a little Joe Bidenism with him from the campaign trail. According to the conventional wisdom, which I think has it right this time, Biden’s lead in the polls has everything to do with the notion that he is the Democrat most likely to beat Trump — and that beating Trump, to most Democrats, is all that matters. I’m not convinced that Biden is the most electable candidate, but I am certain that Democrats are looking to take the least risk possible.
And now it looks as if Hickenlooper is counting on Colorado Democrats to see him as the safe choice to unseat Cory Gardner. Someone presumably in the Democratic hierarchy made sure Hickenlooper couldn’t miss a sure exit strategy, sending in the big guns — Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group — to do a poll of what the Democratic primary field would look like with Hickenlooper in it. Hickenlooper rang up 61% of those polled to Mike Johnston’s 10% to Andrew Romanoff’s 8%. A 51-point lead is, as the kids say, ridiculous, and must look appealing when you’ve spent months looking up at 1%.
The Senate primary field was already big and varied, and Johnston and Romanoff have both played — if lost — in high-stakes statewide primaries. If Hickenlooper does get in, he will definitely be accused of big-footing his way in after insisting he was not interested. It’s pretty certain that Hickenlooper wouldn’t clear the field, but it can hardly be coincidence that Secretary of State Jena Griswold just announced she wouldn’t run.
As soon as the Colorado Dem poll landed, 314 Action Fund — which may be the country’s only pro-science “PAC” — launched its draft-Hick campaign and then came out with a poll from Dem-friendly, but respected, Public Policy Polling, showing Hickenlooper with a 51-38 lead against Gardner. We didn’t see how Romanoff, Johnston or any of the others in the field would have fared against Gardner. My guess is that any decently positioned Democrat would be favored. In the latest state-by-state polling I saw, Trump is 18 points underwater — 58 to 40 — in Colorado.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, 69 of 73 Senate races since 2013 have been won by the party which won the last presidential race in the state. That would be the Democrats in Colorado, and few people believe Trump has much chance here in 2020. But it should be noted that one of the four senators who did buck that trend was Gardner in 2014, following Obama’s 2012 win. Of course, 2014 was also a red-wave year, and Trump, whom Gardner has already endorsed, wasn’t on the ballot.
For Hickenlooper, it would be a second chance after his disastrous presidential run. It’s not that Hick hasn’t tried. If you watch cable TV news — not that I advise it — Hickenlooper is everywhere. There’s no brew-pub in Iowa he hasn’t visited. There’s no talk show he hasn’t talked on. He has repeatedly made his pitch that as governor he was a doer who has already done most of the things that the tied-to-their-desks theorists (in other words, senators) only dream of.
Now, you could argue that Hick has slightly embellished the record, particularly on the issue of guns. But that isn’t the point.
Hickenlooper was never going to be the Democratic presidential nominee. He’s a lousy debater. He’s not particularly popular with any of the activist players on the left. He doesn’t have any strong ties to African-American voters. I thought he could effectively raise money, but he hasn’t been able to do that either. It didn’t help that his campaign got off to a terrible start when he claimed, to much ridicule, that he could successfully make nice with Mitch McConnell.
Haven’t we seen this move coming? You’ll remember when many of his senior campaign staffers walked out on him after his poorly received second debate. They said he should run for Senate instead. He ignored their advice then. A lot of people would be surprised if he ignored it again.