Hickenlooper Gets Boost After Candidate in CO Senate Race Suspends Campaign

Progressive wing of the party has pushed back on 'coronation' of Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper / Getty Images

One of the top intra-party challengers for the Democratic Senate nomination in Colorado suspended his campaign on Tuesday, clearing away one of the toughest obstacles former Governor John Hickenlooper faced when he joined the contest after dropping his failing presidential bid.

Mike Johnston, a former state senator representing Denver, had led all other Democrats in fundraising for the Senate seat thus far, pulling in about $3.4 million in the first two quarters of the year. Only one other candidate, Dan Baer, had cracked the million-dollar mark.

The Democrat who wins the party's nomination will face Republican incumbent Cory Gardner next year.

Johnston, 44, also ran for the party's nomination for governor in 2018, and although he enjoyed the backing of such luminaries as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, he could not withstand the nearly bottomless pockets of then-Representative Jared Polis, a multi-millionaire who self-funded his campaign and ultimately won the governor's seat.

Since Hickenlooper announced his intention to run for the Senate nomination, he's faced increasingly vocal pushback from the progressive flank of the party, especially after the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) quickly endorsed him.

Six of the seven female candidates in the race sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and DSCC chair Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), asking them to rescind the endorsement.

One of those signing the letter was State Senator Angela Williams, who said in a statement shortly after Hickenlooper joined the Senate race, "If he's going to switch gears and run for the Senate, he has a lot to explain to Colorado voters. This won't be a coronation."

Another candidate, former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, accused the DSCC of threatening to blacklist political consultants who might work for his campaign.

"I think we had a very strong path to win this race before the governor got in and I think it was to give a positive vision of what we wanted to accomplish in the state and country," Johnston said in an interview with the Denver Post, which first broke the news.

"I think [Hickenlooper's] entrance required this to be a very different kind of race and required a negative race that's not one that matches my values and how I would want to lead."

All of this transpires against a backdrop of the numerous times Hickenlooper told reporters and others on the presidential campaign trail that he didn't want to be a senator or that the job was not a good fit for him.