Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper drops out of crowded 2020 field

The moderate former governor of Colorado may challenge Republican Cory Gardner for his Senate seat instead

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published August 15, 2019 12:56PM (EDT)

John Hickenlooper (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
John Hickenlooper (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper dropped out of the crowded field of Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination in 2020 on Thursday. While no announcement is imminent, the moderate executive may instead pursue a bid for the U.S. Senate.

"Today, I’m ending my campaign for president. But I will never stop believing that America can only move forward when we work together," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "Don’t tell me that we can’t figure out how to lower prescription drug costs or tackle climate change. Don’t tell me we have to accept the number of gun deaths or the reduced job prospects of too many Americans."

Two campaign aides for Hickenlooper informed USA Today before the announcement that the former Colorado governor would not continue his 2020 presidential campaign. The reason for this decision was logistical: Hickenlooper has struggled to meet the polling and donor thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee in order to be eligible for the next round of presidential debates. Failing to stand out among the diverse field of more than twenty candidates, Hickenlooper has rarely cracked more than 1 percent in any national poll.

This does not mean that Hickenlooper will not be a presence in the next election cycle, however. One aide told USA Today that Hickenlooper could challenge Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, an incumbent considered to be among the most vulnerable seeking reelection in 2020, for his seat in the upper chamber.

Speaking to Salon last month, Hickenlooper ruled out the possibility of running for the Senate.

"Luckily, there are three incredible — or more than three, there are now, I think, six — very talented candidates running for the Senate seat in Colorado. [There are roughly a dozen.] And I fully expect we're going to defeat Mitch McConnell," Hickenlooper told Salon.

He added, "Hell, my experience has been as an executive. I'm the only person actually running who has run a business, a city and a state. And while that experience is valuable in many places, I think it's especially valuable when you start looking at what it would take to beat Donald Trump in the small towns and suburbs, where he was able to get Barack Obama-type voters. I think my background is probably uniquely suited for that kind of political success."

Despite identifying with the Democratic Party's comparatively more moderate wing, Hickenlooper also expressed sympathy for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., when speaking to Salon in March.

"I think the notion . . . she’s being criticized for not moving to Washington right away when . . . everybody’s feeling she’s like all these other elected Congresspeople, that she’s got lots of money, and she’s a working person which makes her unusual and makes her a strong voice for people that have been left behind. I think that perspective of trying to speak up for the disenfranchised, speak up for the people that tend to be marginalized, I think that’s admirable," Hickenlooper explained.

He continued, "I don’t agree with everything that she says, but I think that we share the vast majority of perspectives on a lot of . . . we share a majority of perspectives."

In that same interview, Hickenlooper acknowledged that it will be difficult to garner the media's attention due to the crowded field of candidates.

"I think that with so many candidates, it is going to be difficult to get your share of the media; but the media responds to… it’s not just the Trumpian approach of outrage that gets the media’s attention," Hickenlooper said. "It’s also good ideas. I think it’s also a track record of demonstrating that you can bring people together who oftentimes don’t like each other and argues, to working together. You can bring people together and get concrete, actual results and we’ll see. Not everyone agrees with me that that’s going to be a marker for this primary election, but I think it is."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

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