Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper announced his run for Senate Aug. 22. Hickenlooper, who ended his presidential campaign a week earlier, is hoping to challenge Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) for his seat next November.
His decision to switch races is politically smarter for him. It also sets an example for his fellow former presidential candidates. Like him, other candidates have better chances outside of the presidency. He is a reminder that, while being president is the most powerful role in Washington, it is not the only important and influential one.
Hickenlooper had little chance of becoming the Democratic nominee who would challenge Trump. He struggled both in polls and fundraising, guaranteeing he would not make the third Democratic debate in September.
Enthusiasm for the 67-year-old’s presidential race was low, but that is not the case for his Senate campaign. He has a strong presence in Colorado. Prior to his two terms as governor, Hickenlooper served as Denver’s mayor from 2003 to 2011.
Hickenlooper’s Campaign Strategy
Hickenlooper was among a core group of candidates fighting against the progressive wave in the Democratic party. He strongly denounced socialism as the answer to America’s problem, directly pitting himself against popular candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
He also warned that steering the party towards the left would hurt their end goal. The most important, and elusive, quality Democratic voters are looking for in their nominee is electability. He believed that supporting progressive plans like the Green New Deal would guarantee being branded by the president as a socialist.
Like many others, Hickenlooper understands that the Democrats must be victorious in the 2020 election. Yet he strongly believes that his party will lose if they rebrand themselves as the socialist party. “If we turn towards socialism, we run the risk of helping to re-elect the worst president in American history,” he said.
That is why he set himself up as a moderate candidate against expanding the government, yet still supporting progressive ideals. While he does not support the expensive plan of Medicare for All, he does see healthcare as a right. “You don’t need big government to do big things,” he said at the first Democratic debate in June.
Hickenlooper’s anti-progressive message did not resonate strongly enough to keep him in the presidential race. But his moderate beliefs are needed in an increasingly divided Washington. If he becomes the Democratic challenger against Sen. Gardner, he will continue his appeal to both Democratic and independent voters.
Hickenlooper in Washington
Hickenlooper’s odds in the Senate race already look good. A recent poll showed that 61% of Democratic voters in Colorado support him. The next closest competitor for the nomination was 51 points behind him.
It is difficult to know if it is his long history with Colorado voters or his perceived electablity that makes him the most popular candidate. Polls currently have him beating Gardner in 2020. Whether or not Democrats choose him because he can take back the seat, he would be bringing his centrist views to the Senate.
During Hickenlooper’s time as governor, Colorado made great strides in combating gun violence. The state banned high-capacity magazines. They also established universal background checks, something Hickenlooper would push for as a senator.
While he does not support Medicare for All, he does believe healthcare is an important right for every American. In Washington, he can be expected to fight for private insurance while still working towards healthcare that works for everyone.
Washington needs people who are passionate and driven enough to compete for the highest office in the country. Presidential candidates who have dropped out or will leave in the next few months should not see it as an end to their political careers. Instead, they should follow Hickenlooper’s example. There are other races across the country where these men and women would be successful.
The Senate Needs to be Flipped in 2020
Colorado is one of eight purple states. Gardner’s seat is viewed as one of those most likely to flip next November. That is why the race is being covered so heavily. It also helps that Hickenlooper switched races, taking the spotlight from his presidential campaign to his Senate one.
It is absolutely necessary for the Senate to be flipped in 2020. Last year, the Democrats took control of the House and set up a roadblock for Trump’s more damaging ideas. With a Democratically-held Senate, more obstacles will be put in place.
Although former Vice President Joe Biden still leads in the polls, progressive candidates and ideas are dominating the race. The Democratic party needs to hold onto their 12 seats up for reelection next year, while also trying to flip at least four to gain the majority. To do this, they need to appeal to voters Trump won in 2016.
The Americans who flipped for the president three years ago are not extreme-left voters. They are more moderate and centrist in their views. Candidates like Hickenlooper are more likely to win back Republican-held seats because they are not pushing for the most progressive views.
A current candidate who should look to Hickenlooper as an example of what to do is Beto O’Rourke. The former representative from El, Paso has been unsuccessful in maintaining the support he had for his 2018 Senate run for his current presidential campaign. Although he was unable to beat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) last year, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is up for election.
Hickenlooper is reminding his party that they need to be successful in 2020 and that does not only come from winning the White House. More focus and energy needs to be on other races. The most important of these is flipping the Senate. Those who are slowly falling out of the presidential race should follow Hickenlooper’s example and consider running for another spot in Washington.