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Hickenlooper says he’ll give ‘serious thought’ to Senate run after dropping presidential bid

Colorado and national Democrats see former governor as best chance to capture Gardner’s seat

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, shown in Iowa on Saturday, announced Thursday he is ending his bid for the presidency. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper ended his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday, and said he will consider a run against Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in a battleground state Democrats need to win to take control of the upper chamber.

“People want to know what comes next for me,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “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 that some serious thought.”

Hickenlooper, who espouses a tempered brand of liberal politics compared to the more strident progressives such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, failed to gain much national traction in his presidential bid. 

By the time he dropped out Thursday, he was not on pace to reach the 130,000-donor benchmark to qualify for the next presidential debates in Houston, set for Sept. 12 and 13.

Hickenlooper has previously dismissed the possibility of running for Senate, though recent lobbying from key Colorado Democrats and national party leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer could ultimately persuade him to enter the race.

His resistance to the notion appears to have thawed recently. Earlier this month, Hickenlooper’s communications director told CNN that the former governor had “not closed the door to anything.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, a fellow Colorado Democrat and former aide to Hickenlooper who is also seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, was coincidentally live on MSNBC on Wednesday night as the news broke of the former governor’s pending exit from the race.

While not detailing the specifics of the pair’s reported recent conversations in Iowa, Bennet made a public pitch for Hickenlooper to join the field seeking to challenge Gardner in 2020.

“He would win. He would win,” Bennet said of what would happen if Hickenlooper were to run for Senate. “He’s right where the state is on a whole range of issues, and he left office as popular as he came into office as governor.”

Bennet said he was not going to reveal what Hickenlooper’s plans were.

“But we obviously have to win the Senate seat in Colorado, that’s critical,” Bennet said. “This isn’t just about the presidential election. This is about how we get a Democratic majority back in the Senate, and in my mind that’s as important as who the next president is.”

In his 2014 reelection for governor, Hickenlooper was the only Colorado Democrat to win statewide when he defeated Republican challenger Bob Beauprez by 3.3 percentage points.

That same year, Gardner ousted incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall by less than 2 points.

President Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket could hamper Gardner’s chance for reelection, experts have speculated. The president lost Colorado to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 5 points in 2016 and has hovered around a 40 percent approval rating in the state for most of the past year.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2020 race for Colorado Senate a Tossup.

Democrats need a net gain of three seats in the Senate and win back the White House to control the chamber’s gavel.

Other than Gardner, Democrats are targeting seats held by Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Georgia Sen. David Perdue. Inside Elections rates each of those races either a Tossup, Tilts Republican or Leans Republican.

Depending on who Alabama GOP voters select to challenge Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, that seat promises to be a top Republican pickup opportunity, with Inside Elections rating the race Leans Republican.

In the past, Hickenlooper has made clear that the function of government he enjoys most is assembling teams to execute laws, not sitting down with a narrow set of negotiators to create them.

“I’m not cut out to be a senator,” the former two-term governor told reporters in February. “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.”

Still, if he enters the race, Hickenlooper will become the immediate front-runner in a Democratic primary field already 12 candidates deep.

Earlier this week, the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, a polling group with a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight, released a survey that found 61 percent of Democratic Senate primary voters would choose Hickenlooper to challenge Gardner.

Former state Sen. Mike Johnston, the next-highest Democrat in the poll, garnered 10 percent support when Hickenlooper was included in the potential field.

“Governor Hickenlooper’s massive lead … is a function first and foremost of his personal popularity,” pollster Geoff Garin wrote in a memo attached to the poll results, the Denver Post reported

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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