Hickenlooper still fundraising, despite reports he may drop presidential bid

Colorado Democrats have been lobbying former governor to drop presidential bid and run for Senate against Cory Gardner

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake earlier this month before he announced he was dropping out of the presidential race. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake earlier this month before he announced he was dropping out of the presidential race. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 14, 2019 at 11:48am

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sent out a fundraising email for his presidential campaign on Tuesday despite reports that he is weighing an end to his bid for the White House in order to run for a GOP-held Senate seat.

Before the Wing Ding dinner at the Iowa State Fair last Friday, Hickenlooper jumped into the passenger seat of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet’s car to talk about his political future, the New York Times reported.

[Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper enters presidential race]

In campaign emails and on the trail, Hickenlooper has not let on that he is considering dropping his presidential aspirations and challenging Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado in 2020, a key target of Senate Democrats in their bid to regain a chamber majority.

“We have a long 14 months ahead of us, but that’s why we need to dig our heels in now — to spread our vision and build our team,” Hickenlooper said in his fundraising email on Tuesday, despite multiple media reports that he was expected to drop from the 2020 Democratic field imminently.

In February, Hickenlooper dismissed the possibility of running for Senate, indicating 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,” Hickenlooper said at the time. “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.”

But he is not on pace to reach the 130,000-donor benchmark to qualify for the next presidential debates in Houston on Sept. 12 and 13, and his previous debate performances have not appeared to boost his polling numbers significantly.

Colorado Democrats in recent days have been publicly lobbying Hickenlooper to end his presidential campaign and challenge Gardner in the Senate race, where he would be the immediate front-runner in a Democratic primary field already 12 candidates deep.

A political action group that aims to elect scientists to political office, the 314 Action Fund, launched a fundraising and grassroots organization website on Tuesday with the domain name DraftHickForSenate.com.

Hickenlooper is a geologist by training.

The PAC will run digital ads, begin rounding up volunteers for a Hickenlooper Senate bid in the state, and accept donations of up to $2,800 — the FEC limit for individual contributions to a Senate campaign — that it will shovel over to Hickenlooper’s Senate campaign committee if he decides to run.

“The idea is to have for him, the day he announces, a strong grassroots network,” said Josh Morrow, executive director of the 314 Action Fund, the Denver Post reported.

“I think there’s one candidate who can beat Cory Gardner and send [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell into the minority, and it’s John Hickenlooper,” Morrow said.

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, only garnered 10 percent support.

“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. “Additionally, primary voters see Hickenlooper as the best candidate to defeat Republican Senator Cory Gardner and help Democrats win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which the poll shows is a key priority for primary voters.”

In his 2014 reelection for governor, Hickenlooper defeated Republican challenger Bob Beauprez by 3.3 percentage points and was the only Democrat that year to win a statewide election.

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

But the emergence of President Donald Trump as the GOP standard-bearer could hamper Gardner’s reelection, experts have speculated. The president lost Colorado to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 5 points in the 2016 election 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 to register a net gain of three seats in the Senate and win back the White House to have a majority in the chamber.

Other than Gardner, Democrats have their sights set on 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.

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