Colorado’s place in the 2020 national election just got a lot more interesting. And it wasn’t because it had two candidates running for President. It was because it suddenly had one less candidate running for President and, almost as quickly, one new candidate running for U.S. Senate. And it was the same person.
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced the groundswell for the nation’s top job just wasn’t there and he decided to drop out. But just seven days later, he dropped in again---this time to run as a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.
“I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot,” he said August 22nd in announcing his Senate candidacy. “I’m not done fighting for the people of Colorado.” His unusual name may have caught on in this time zone but his tepid message apparently had not burned things up beyond the mountains.
With Hickenlooper, a two-term Mayor of Denver and two-term Governor of Colorado, now in the race, the field of Democrats running for Senate has swelled to nearly twenty, including a number of former legislators who served when Hickenlooper was Governor. Whomever wins the nomination will take on Republican incumbent Senator Cory Gardner.
As Governor, Hickenlooper had his detractors including many in his own party. He nonetheless left office with high favorability numbers. But, apparently, what happens in Colorado---Hickenlooper fever---was contained in Colorado.
Hickenlooper may have expected his low-key style and western affability to take off like a bottle rocket. Instead it excited like a wet sparkler. There was simply no fizz, either in his debate appearances or on Sunday morning talk shows. Hickenlooper often swung and missed on softball questions or, other times, provided cold oatmeal, unexciting answers.
Hickenlooper’s candidacy is welcomed by Joe Garcia, who served as Hickenlooper’s number two for both of his terms as Colorado’s chief executive. “There ae some very talented, very experienced in the Senate race. Gov. Hickenlooper simply adds to the bounty. He’s great but so are some of the other people there.” Garcia thinks Hickenlooper, if successful, could distinguish himself in the Senate. The Governor, said Garcia, “has demonstrated being effective on the municipal level and state level.” He sees no reason why, as a Senator, Hickenlooper wouldn’t also rise to the occasion in Washington.
While there may be plenty of Democrats wearing rose-colored glasses nationally over Hickenlooper and his chances of winning in November, some of his harshest critics are not only close to home but squarely in the ‘ADBH’---Any Democrat But Hickenlooper---camp.
Former state Senate President John Morse has been critical of Hickenlooper and his boast that he took on the National Rifle Association with passage of Colorado’s more stringent gun laws. Not so, said Morse, whose position on guns caused him to be recalled and later defeated for reelection. The former police chief said Colorado’s gun laws were passed not because of Hickenlooper, but “in spite of Hickenlooper.”
Another Hickenlooper critic is former State Representative Joe Salazar. The Thornton Democrat and progressive, calls Hickenlooper’s move into the Senate race arrogant. “For a man who says he’s not cut out to be a U.S. Senator, he shouldn’t be in,” said the former Thornton politician. Salazar, who served with a number of current Senate candidates, said “any single one of them can beat Cory Gardner.”
Salazar is also in agreement with Morse on the former Governor’s boast that he took on the NRA. It’s not true, he said. Beyond that, Salazar is also quick to scold Hickenlooper over his coziness with oil and gas interests on fracking and his handling of the state death penalty.
Hickenlooper, who said he changed his mind on capital punishment, issued a reprieve for Nathan Dunlap, who as a 17-year-old killed four employees of an Aurora Chucky Cheese Pizza restaurant. But, as Governor, Hickenlooper stopped well short of commuting the death penalty and passed that decision on to future governors.
Salazar, who lost a close primary for Colorado Attorney General, said he has no plans to end his criticism of Hickenlooper. “I have made a great effort on social media to expose an awful lot of Hickenlooper’s record and I’m going to continue.” He also predicted that former legislators in the Senate race will not only have his support in this effort but might conceivably join him. “The whole idea of him (Hickenlooper) being a moderate, means to lead,” said Salazar. “He only wants to maintain the status quo.”
But, Hickenlooper aside, Colorado Democrats are excited about the prospects of having two Democrats in the Senate. Gardner is polling below 40 percent and considered one of the---if not the most---vulnerable incumbents in the Senate. Democrats need only take three seats to gain a majority in the Senate and move aside Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell.
The election is still more than a year away and plenty of things could happen to shape the race.