John Hickenlooper ends 2020 presidential campaign, nods at potential Senate bid

Updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu August 15, 2019
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(CNN) —  

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper ended his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday, releasing a video in which he nodded at the possibility of a future Senate run.

The announcement comes after three Democrats familiar with the matter told CNN on Wednesday that Hickenlooper was poised to drop out.

“Today, I’m ending my campaign for President,” Hicklenlooper said in the three-minute video. “But I will never stop believing that America can only move forward when we work together.”

He added: “A little over six months ago, I announced my run for President. In almost every aspect, this journey has been more exciting and more rewarding than I ever imagined. Although, of course, I did imagine a very different conclusion.”

Hickenlooper, who struggled to break out of the crowded field of candidates, has not yet decided whether he will run for the Senate as party leaders have urged him to do, sources said. He did not make an announcement on that decision in the Thursday video, but acknowledged the possibility.

“People want to know what comes next for me. I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate. They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state. I intend to give that some serious thought,” the governor said. “I’ve been a geologist, a small businessman, a mayor, a governor and a candidate for president of the United States. At each step, I’ve always looked forward with hope. And I always will.”

Hickenlooper’s exit from the race leaves 23 other Democrats vying for the 2020 nomination.

Hickenlooper framed his candidacy around stemming the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party. The two-term Colorado governor was a moderate voice in the primary, making his opposition to democratic socialism– including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ political philosophy – central to his campaign.

But that strategy failed to gain traction and Hickenlooper’s campaign lost three of its most senior staffers in early July, including Brad Komar, the campaign manager. The losses signaled to many Democrats that Hickenlooper’s campaign was on its last legs, but Democrats close to the governor said he wanted to stay in and reassess his chances after CNN’s debate in late July.

Following that debate, it appeared the former Denver mayor would struggle to make the stage in the next round of debates in September as he was behind on both the fundraising and polling thresholds for qualification.

Hickenlooper’s exit now opens the possibility that the once popular governor could run for Senate in Colorado, challenging Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican seen as one of the most vulnerable lawmakers in 2020.

Hickenlooper spoke with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York about potentially challenging Gardner following the July debate. He pressed ahead with his presidential campaign following that conversation, visiting the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines this past weekend along with many of the other presidential candidates.

Hickenlooper faces two issues in a Senate run, though: The governor has lambasted the prospect of running for Senate and Democratic Colorado Senate candidate Mike Johnston raised more in the second quarter of 2019 than Hickenlooper raised for his presidential bid.

The former governor spent the first few months of his presidential campaign knocking the idea of him jumping into the Senate race.

“If the Senate is so good, how come all of those senators are trying to get out?” Hickenlooper told CNN earlier this year, a nod to the number of Democratic senators who are running for president.

“The Senate doesn’t attract me,” he said. “It just doesn’t attract me.”

But by last weekend, with his presidential campaign nearing an end, he told CNN, “I don’t rule anything out.”

Even in a crowded Democratic primary, Hickenlooper is still seen as the party’s strongest candidate to take on Gardner. Curtis Hubbard, a Democratic strategist for a firm that has worked for Hickenlooper in the past, has recently registered domain names like Hick4Senate.com in the hope that the former governor switches races.