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John Hickenlooper Ends White House Bid, Mulls Senate Run In 2020

Gage Skidmore
CC BY-SA 2.0
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People. Hickenlooper announced on Thursday that he is ending his presidential campaign.

John Hickenlooper on Thursday ended his longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and said he may run for the Senate in 2020 against a Republican considered one of the most politically vulnerable incumbents.

The former Colorado governor and Denver mayor made the announcement via YouTube video, where he's shown sitting on a sunny porch, thanking his supporters.

The news comes after days of speculation about his campaign’s shaky future, amid lagging poll numbers and fundraising figures. Still, he isn’t ruling out getting into the race to unseat incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.

"I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate," he said. "They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state. I intend to give that some serious thought."

Colorado's shift to the left could put GOP Sen. Cory Gardner in jeopardy, and at least 10 Democrats have launched campaigns, setting up a competitive primary even before Hickenlooper, 67, makes a decision.

Gardner, up for reelection in 2020, is considered one of the most vulnerable senators in the country because of Colorado's shift to the left.

If Hickenlooper joins the senate race, campaign finance experts will watch what he does with funds raised for his presidential bid. Campaign finance records show he has about $836,000 on hand.

"Broadly speaking, any money that Hickenlooper raised for his presidential campaign, he could use for a Senate bid should he go down that road," said Michael Beckel with the nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group Issue One.

Hickenlooper became a political giant in Colorado for his quirky, consensus-driven and unscripted approach to politics. He once jumped out of a plane to sell a ballot measure to increase state spending and won two statewide elections in a purple state during Republican wave years. He was previously the mayor of Denver.

He launched his longshot White House bid in March, promising to unite the country. Instead, he quickly became a political punch line.

Shortly before taking his first trip to Iowa as a candidate, Hickenlooper, who became a multimillionaire founding a series of brewpubs, balked at calling himself a capitalist on national television. Then, at a CNN town hall, he recounted how he once took his mother to see a pornographic movie. With the campaign struggling to raise money, his staff urged Hickenlooper to instead challenge Gardner. But Hickenlooper stayed in and hired another group of staffers in a last-ditch effort to turn around his campaign.

Positioning himself as a common-sense candidate who couldn't be labeled a socialist by Republicans, Hickenlooper couldn't make his voice heard in the crowded Democratic presidential field of about two dozen candidates. It didn't help that, by Hickenlooper's own admission, he's a mediocre debater and erratic public speaker. In the end, he couldn't even scrape together enough money for many of his trademark quirky ads, only launching one in which avid beer drinkers toast Hickenlooper by comparing him to favorite brews.

Hickenlooper softened his denials of interest in the Senate in recent weeks as his campaign finances dwindled and pressure increased from other Democrats. He started telling people he'd make a decision by the end of this week.

It's unclear whether Hickenlooper plans to run against Gardner, whom national Democrats have urged him to take on since last year. He's repeatedly said he's not interested in the Senate and prefers an executive position.

But if Hickenlooper did run against Gardner, he'd first have to get through another crowded Democratic primary field. Numerous Colorado Democrats have launched primary bids for Gardner's seat, and many have indicated they'd stay in the race, even if Hickenlooper enters the contest.

Hickenlooper isn't the first Democratic hopeful to end his 2020 presidential bid. U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California announced his departure in July.

KUNC's Matt Bloom, Luke Runyon and Michael de Yoanna contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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