It’s John Hickenlooper’s move. I don’t know if he plays chess or not, but the three-dimensional chess move to make here is to tell the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) that he doesn’t want its phony-baloney endorsement.
Even if checkers is his game, Hick should stand up and publicly ask the party establishment to withdraw the endorsement, saying that while he appreciates the gesture, Coloradans are notable independents who don’t want or need help in choosing their candidates. This move would place Hickenlooper somewhere near the moral high ground — close enough anyway — and cost him absolutely nothing.
As you may have heard, lots of Democrats are enraged by this endorsement. They accuse Washington of interfering in Colorado politics (true) and say that this interference takes away Coloradans’ opportunity to pick whomever they want to run for Senate (false). Six of the seven women in the race wrote a letter to the DSCC asking for the endorsement to be withdrawn.
The truth is that this endorsement is great news for any Democrat running who isn’t John Hickenlooper. It’s a handy club to use against Hickenlooper, marking him as the choice of Democratic insiders, who may not be the most popular group among Colorado primary voters. It’s definitely a gift to any progressive arguing that Hickenlooper’s politics are so 2016.
Why would Hickenlooper possibly need this endorsement? When you have virtually 100% name recognition in your state, as Hick does, and you’re the only candidate in the race with ties to the national party, as Hick is, a DSCC endorsement is basically redundant. And all it does is bring out the game-is-rigged, thumbs-on-the-scale contingent.
When Bernie Sanders talked about the thumbs in 2016, he had a real point. The powers that be in Washington were at first unconcerned about a Sanders candidacy, but as he gained momentum, not to mention voters, they began to put their thumbs and any other available body parts on the scale. There was a certain logic to this strategy. They believed Sanders couldn’t win against Donald Trump and thought Hillary Clinton couldn’t lose. So much for a certain kind of logic.
But in Colorado, there is no logic. What there is, at this point, is Democratic squabbling. The Denver Post got hold of intraparty emails among county chairs, including this one from Dana Torpey-Newman, chair of the Douglas County Democratic Party: “Hickenlooper has made it clear that he neither understands nor cares about the true problems in our country, and I object to being told that I, as a party chair, am unable to take sides in a primary, but the DSCC … is able to put a thumb on the scale and force out our candidates who actually comprehend the deeper roots of the societal problems we face.”
That’s tough stuff. But I’m not sure who’s being forced out. And as I mentioned, Hickenlooper does not need the help. As far as national Democrats and, of course, big-money donors are concerned, Hickenlooper is a hero for getting into the race, particularly given the deserved hits he has taken and will continue to take for his foot-in-mouth insistence that he was not cut out to be a senator. This is a race Democrats must win if they have any chance of retaking the Senate in 2020, and Hickenlooper is the kind of proven candidate the establishment routinely embraces. But they didn’t need to say that. Everyone already understands that.
What the DSCC doesn’t seem to understand is that if someone like Hickenlooper is taken down in the Democratic primary, then Hickenlooper may not be as strong a candidate as you thought, and the giant killer who wins that race has more than proved him/herself capable of facing Cory Gardner, who, remember, has to run on the same ticket with Trump. You can’t overemphasize the burden of running with Trump in a state that is turning increasingly blue and during a campaign in which Trump will make a headline or two or 12 every day that Gardner will be forced to answer for. If Gardner can win with that handicap, he’s the Colorado senator who should be running for president.
We know that many of those outraged on the Democratic side — at last count, there are 12 people in the race — have absolutely no chance of winning in the primary. I’m not quite sure why no-chancers choose to run in races like this, but Hickenlooper, who had no chance to win in the presidential primary, can probably explain the relationship of hope to political reality better than I can.
The point in the female candidates’ letter to the DSCC that Colorado has never elected a woman as senator or governor is inarguable and increasingly hard to understand, particularly as women have become so dominant in legislative races. But, unless you believe the DSCC endorsement has any real impact — again, it doesn’t when offered to the overwhelming favorite — it doesn’t change the chance of a woman winning this primary.
The other point made in the letter — that in Hickenlooper’s run for president, he pitted himself against the progressives, particularly Sanders — will almost certainly be central, along with his support for fracking, in the arguments against Hickenlooper. And the DSCC endorsement does nothing but strengthen that argument.
The problem for the others running in the Democratic primary is not the Hick endorsement but the fact of Hickenlooper himself. He won’t clear the field, but he will make it harder for everyone else to raise money and that will, inevitably, narrow the field. But Hickenlooper’s failed presidential run has left a lot of room on his left for someone to fill, and Hick’s D.C. endorsement only makes that open space look that much wider. Which is why the smart move for Hickenlooper would be to ask the DSCC to take it back.