/John Hickenlooper to drop out of 2020 presidential race, aides say

John Hickenlooper to drop out of 2020 presidential race, aides say

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John Hickenlooper speaks about his experience with health care exchanges as Colorado Gov. and the Green New Deal, April 12, 2019 in Coralville, Iowa.
Joseph Cress, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday will end his 2020 White House bid, two campaign aides tell USA TODAY.

Hickenlooper was struggling to meet the donor and polling thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for the September debate in Houston and was unlikely to make the stage.

One of the aides told USA TODAY that Hickenlooper is still weighing a Senate bid against Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, among the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in the 2020 election cycle. The aide said Hickenlooper will not announce whether he’ll seek the party’s nomination to run against Gardner during Thursday’s announcement.

Hickenlooper has previously acknowledged that Democratic leadership would like him to run for the Senate, but pushed back against the notion that the party needs him with a large field of high-profile Colorado Democrats who have already announced their candidacy.

“There are several other top-flight candidates running for Senate in Colorado, I think any one of which could beat Cory Gardner,” Hickenlooper said during a campaign stop in Iowa last month. “I mean, he is amazingly vulnerable.”

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Hickenlooper entered the Democratic primary on March 4 and raised $1 million in the 48 hours that followed. But after a lackluster performance in the June debates in Miami, his campaign showed signs of cracking.

Earlier this summer, Hickenlooper confirmed that some of his aides were urging him to withdraw from the presidential race and instead run for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat or pursue other opportunities. At least six Hickenlooper staffers bailed on the campaign in late June and early July. 

If Hickenlooper were to enter the Senate primary, he could start with a substantial polling lead over the 11 other declared Democratic candidates, according to polling conducted by “a national Democratic group involved in Senate races” and published Monday by the Denver Post.

Hickenlooper entering the Senate race would be a big win for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has struggled to persuade several high-profile Democrats to take a shot at the Senate.

Most notably, fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas are languishing in their bids for the White House. But like Hickenlooper, both are seen by party leaders and Democratic voters as attractive candidates to take on incumbent Senate Republicans in their home states.

But Bullock and O’Rourke have resisted calls to run for the Senate. 

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Before running for president, Hickenlooper served as mayor of Denver from 2003 to 2011, then was elected governor of Colorado, where he served from 2011 to 2019. He is the second serious candidate to leave the race. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., dropped out in June.

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Hickenlooper’s campaign

In his time as a presidential candidate, Hickenlooper staked his claim as one of the more moderate candidates in the race.

While he supported universal healthcare, he did not endorse the Medicare for All plans other candidates had proposed. California Democrats even booed him in June when he told them “socialism is not the answer” at the Democratic Party State Convention. 

“My point that I was trying to make is that the Republicans are going to try to define us,” Hickenlooper told USA TODAY following his tough reception at the California convention. “Any large expansion of government, they’re going to call socialism, rightly or wrongly, and the word socialist has huge negative baggage in the United States. If we don’t draw a bright line saying we are not socialists, we could end up running the risk of helping to reelect the worst president in U.S. history.”

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Hickenlooper failed to garner much attention from his appearances in the first round of Democratic debates. As of early August, his national polling average was less than 1%, according to RealClearPolitics

Hickenlooper was one of the few Democrats to emerge victorious in the 2014 Republican swing midterm election that saw Republicans take control of the Senate and increase their House majority. He left office with a plurality of voters (49%) approving of his tenure, according to Morning Consult.

He had enough buzz during his second term as governor that Hillary Clinton’s campaign vetted him in 2016 as a potential vice presidential candidate. She picked Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

But he was hardly registering with voters during his five-month run for the White House.

He was about 45 minutes into a campaign roundtable in Chicago last month when the moderator forgot his name.

The former Colorado governor had been listening intently as the participants – a group of elementary-school-age children, formerly incarcerated men, worried mothers and retirees – described how a mix of gun violence, government indifference and systemic racism had decimated their neighborhood.

The moderator, Peace Coleman, stumbled when he sought to bring Hickenlooper into the conversation.

“With great power comes great responsibility, and in the place of power, there is a power dynamic for one person to fail, for one people to fail and for one people to be up,” Coleman said. “So I ask the question to Hicken–.”

The governor bailed out Coleman and said he should call him John.

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