On August 14th, FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat discussed the likelihood of struggling Democratic presidential candidates dropping out of the race in the near future. Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, the former governor of the Centennial State, was the first name to be brought up (by elections analyst Geoffrey Skelley).
Hickenlooper’s withdrawal is hardly a surprise.
At the start of July, stories started coming out of his campaign was seriously struggling: he had lost key staff members (including his campaign manager, communications director, digital director and finance director); fundraising was so lackluster that the campaign risked running out of cash entirely by the end of August; his staff were practically begging him to consider other options.
The Hickenlooper campaign’s internal struggles were only a sign of his overall efforts; he was getting nowhere in his bid for the White House. Hickenlooper was unlikely to even make it into the third round of Democratic debates – he only qualified in one or four required polls, and he only had 13,000 individual donors (10% of the number required to get to the stage in September).
Aside from his troubled organization, Hickenlooper was uninspiring as a candidate. He positioned himself as a “pragmatic” alternative to progressive candidates like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but in the July debate against those two he seemed unprepared, tripping over his words, and at one point – seeming to lack a plan on immigration – asked, “How hard can it be?”
Off the debate stage, he didn’t endear himself to Democratic activists.
At the California Democratic convention in June, he returned to his old tactic of attacking socialism, but was booed by the crowd.
There were plenty of factors that nudged Hickenlooper out of the race, but there was also an enticing pull; he now has the chance to run for the Senate in Colorado.
Not only that, but he has a good chance of winning; one poll shows that he currently leads Republican incumbent Cory Gardner 51% to 38%. In 2020, every Senate seat will count for the Democrats, as the Party has only narrow margins to win a majority there, even if their candidate is elected to the White House.
Hickenlooper’s allies and supporters have been encouraging him to “drop out gracefully” from his quixotic presidential bid and run for Senate for months now, from both outside and within the campaign team. The first sign that he was considering such a move came a couple of weeks before his withdrawal, when a company linked to Hickenlooper registered the web domain, “HickForSenate.com”
John Hickenlooper will not be much of a loss to the Democratic presidential field. Aside from his own inadequacies as a candidate, there is just not enough space for a candidate like him in a field that includes Joe Biden, and in a party that is gravitating towards candidates who are truly representative of its increasingly younger, more ethnically diverse, and progressive base.