John Hickenlooper has claimed the Democratic nomination for Colorado’s Senate race, beating former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in a two-way primary Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. The former governor will face off against incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner this November in what’s expected to be one of the most hotly contested battles of the 2020 election cycle.
Colorado is the Democratic Party’s best chance at gaining a Senate seat this year. President Donald Trump’s approval rating in the state has been in the negatives ever since he took office. And Gardner has done little to separate himself from Trump. He chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2018 midterm elections, helping to increase the GOP majority in the Senate and cementing himself as a party man. Gardner endorsed Trump’s reelection in early 2019.
Hickenlooper’s win on Tuesday was expected, as he was running 30 percentage points ahead of Romanoff in early polls. Despite having more of a centrist record as a state lawmaker, Romanoff was campaigning to Hickenlooper’s left in the primary, backing the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All.”
But the race saw little progressive energy, and Hickenlooper, who was pushed to run by the national Democratic Party and had the immediate backing of senatorial Democrats’ campaign arm, rode to victory. Hickenlooper ran to the center of the Democratic Party, arguing that the Green New Deal would set up the nation for “failure” and supporting an expanded Affordable Care Act with a public option for insurance, rather than a universal single-payer system. He had a progressive record as governor on issues around gun control and immigration, signing universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines into law.
The popular two-term former governor ― who won reelection in 2014, the same year Republicans had higher turnout than Democrats in Colorado — is seen as a strong candidate against Gardner. He has consistently polled ahead of the incumbent Republican, including an 18-percentage-point lead in a May poll of the race.
But Hickenlooper is not without vulnerabilities. He threw his hat into the presidential race last year, thinking his brand of Mountain West pragmatism would find a clear lane in the Democratic primary. Instead, Hickenlooper found himself lumped in with similar candidates like Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who is now also running for Senate. None of them gained any traction.
At the time, Hickenlooper was adamant that he didn’t want to be a senator, repeatedly stating that he didn’t think he’d like the job. He has since had to answer for several gaffes, most notably a resurfaced video of his 2014 remarks comparing political campaign work to being whipped on an “ancient slave ship,” which he apologized for earlier this month.
Still, Colorado is promising for Democrats. Two years ago, the party easily held on to the governor’s mansion, electing Jared Polis to succeed Hickenlooper, and flipped both chambers of the state Legislature. A largely suburban state with a growing Latino population and a strong subset of younger voters, Colorado has trended away from its once swing-state status and become increasingly liberal.
One of Gardner’s warning signs came in the 2018 midterms when Democrat Jason Crow unseated Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in the suburbs of Denver.
After his loss, Coffman had this to say about Republicans’ electoral future: “Donald Trump is about Donald Trump, and what Donald Trump is, is he wants to be the center of attention every single day. He wants to dominate the news cycle every single day, and good luck trying to get a message out of that.”