Littwin UPDATE: Now we wait for Hick’s next move. Hint: It should be about a run for Senate

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017 opening ceremony in Denver Oct. 5, 2017. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)
Then-Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017 opening ceremony in Denver Oct. 5, 2017. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

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.


  1. I wonder what would happen if Hickenlooper jumps in and NOBODY jumps out. I mean, what would any of the existing candidates have to lose by staying OR to win by leaving in reaction to Hickenlooper’s move?

  2. So Hick is the first to call it what it is.

    Good for him. It’s not like he was in a rush with him leading big in the Colorado primary polls, but why burn the jet fuel.

    The downside to officially declaring for the Senate race is that it gives Complicit Cory’s out-of-state propaganda machine a clear target.

    JD, I think Romanoff drops first to join a campaign eventually. He raised just a third of Johnston last quarter, so he wasn’t trending anyway.

    So who’s next?

    Beto looks close.

  3. I’d be surprised if he ignored the advice again, but then, no one – and certainly not Hickenlooper himself – has asked me. I’d much rather see him as a newly-elected Senator from Colorado than a failed presidential candidate known mostly for the comic potential of his last name. Personally, I like Andrew Romanoff, but that mostly illustrates how terrible I would be at predicting political races and candidates.

  4. After reading an account of the way the Senate is functioning, or not functioning, in the NY Times, I can see why Gov. Hickenlooper doesn’t want to be part of it, though his “make people agree” skills, if indeed they hold up on a national level, could be useful there, especially if, partly thanks to electing him, we Democrats win the Senate back. On the other hand I don’t like the idea that The Senate is not where he wants to be,that he is being cajoled and begged to get in the race, especially seeing as how he is liable to win when he can’ event maker the September debates. The more he fails in his Presidential-Ego race, which no way can he win, the more I am for Johnston or Romanoff, who really do want to be Colorado senators. I think one of them can beat Gardner, too. People say they would vote for Hickenlooper but what if he wasn’t on the ballot? Would they vote for Gardner as opposed to a decent Democrat? I don’t think so.

  5. I’m pretty sure my dog Wilson could beat Cory for the Senate seat so your point is more than valid. Colorado may as well pick someone whose first choice was the state.

  6. AP says the “drop out” speech will be today.
    Anyone have an attractive offer for Hickenlooper OTHER than a Senate run? Does CNN have a time slot for a Hickenlooper/Kasich commentary & interview show?

  7. With his geology background and experience in the West, he’s an easy pick for Sec of Interior. He’s just too awkward for a State job.

  8. If a Democrat wins the White House in 2020, it will be a worthless win without Moscow Mitch McConnell out as Majority Leader in the Senate. Dems will need to gain three seats in a tough year for Dems in the Senate. Two of their best chances are replacing Gardner in Coloirado and Cornyn in Texas. O’Rourke, regarded to be the only Texan capable of beating Cornyn, is saying it ‘isn’t important enough’ for him (even though it seemed to be important enough for him to want the other Senate seat last November. ANd here in Colorado, the only person really capable of beating Gardner can only say he’ll give it some serious thought.

    Ol’ Mitch must. be licking his chops at another four years of Republican dominance in the Senate as they fill Ginsberg’s seat in SCOTUS and maybe one more, not to mention a clean sweep of conservative judges in the Federal Bench. All at the same time he’ll be laughing at blocking even more bills from the house and shutting down the next President the way he successfully shut down Obama.

  9. Romanoff quite likely is the most qualified, with clear decisions on issues and policy. He’s a good guy to boot. Hickenlooper and his name will be hard to beat, though.

  10. Now it’s “serious consideration”, eh?

    Back in June, it was “I’m not cut out to be a senator,” said Hickenlooper, who added that he loves putting administrative teams together. “Senators don’t build teams. Senators sit and debate in small groups, which is important, right? But I’m not sure that’s my — I’m a doer. That’s what gives me joy.”

    One thing is certain – he has one quality that all politicians seem to have – the ability to flip flop when required.

  11. I don’t think Hickenlooper has the temperament to be a senator. He likes to be in charge (mayor, governor). I just don’t see him making a substantial contribution to the U.S. Senate.

  12. Yep That’s what Colorado deserves. Someone who really doesn’t want the job.”but I’ll take it if you beg me” Ritter got his “no show” job.. Romer too…

  13. Hickenlooper’s biggest, most fatal misstep was his dissing of Bernie Sanders. Yeah, we’d prefer him to Cory Gardner, but we’d prefer my half-brained goofy pit bull to Cory Gardner. I would love Hickenlooper to get back to what he does best, making wonderful beer, and getting out of the way of real progressives willing to make the needed difference in government.

  14. frackenlooper…the corporate flunky…ok then…run, run and run…Senator Racist Gardner will not be reelected no matter what happens with frackenlooper…

  15. But Cory is so ” bipartisan ” ! Sure, he votes with Trump 90 % of the time, campaigns with him, and was one of the first to endorse his second run for office, but he’s really ” bipartisan ” ! I can’t wait until this empty suit Trump flunkie taking points machine is GONE…

  16. I would like to see Hickenlooper back Romanoff for Senate. I can see why the Senate doesn’t appeal to Hick. He’d be 70 by the time he would be sworn into office. A freshman senator at 70. There are other ways he can be influential in Colorado other than filling a job he really doesn’t want and seems unsuited for.

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