While serving as governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper was a poster boy for moderate Democrats. Winning election in a purple state, he seemed well positioned for a presidential run — until his campaign actually started. It turns out that Hickenlooper was a lackluster candidate who seemed entirely out of place with the Democratic party’s increasingly leftward tilt.
So it came as no surprise when Hickenlooper recently dropped out of the presidential race and decided to run for Senate instead. That race always made a lot more sense for Hickenlooper, but now he’s facing a field of candidates — including Dan Baer, a gay former ambassador — who are telling him his time had passed.
“Twenty years ago, someone like me wouldn’t have been expected to step aside, because twenty years ago, someone like me wouldn’t have been running in the first place,” Baer told an audience of Democrats after Hickenlooper’s announcement. “Times have changed. Our leadership must change too.”
Baer served as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe during the Obama administration. He threw his hat in the ring earlier this year. The Democratic field is crowded with candidates for the 2020 Senate race in large part because the incumbent Republican, Cory Gardner, is considered an easy target. Gardner has been embracing Trump, while the state he represents is increasingly Democratic.
Taking on Hickenlooper is a bit of a risk, given the former governor’s high reputation among Coloradans. Baer was careful to express his admiration for his new opponent.
“He’s really a human embodiment of hospitality,” Baer said of Hickenlooper. “I continue to count him as a friend and I have a genuine personal regard for him.”
The problem for Hickenlooper is that his failed presidential run did him no favors. Party leaders had been hoping Hickenlooper would run for Senate instead of president, but Hickenlooper had other grandiose plans. Unfortunately, he kept pooh-poohing a Senate run while he was lusting after the White House.
“I’m not cut out to be a senator,” Hickenlooper said in February. Now he’s having to backpedal furiously, having handed his opponents — and the Republicans — a treasure load of comments with which to attack his Senate campaign.
Indeed, recruiting what the party thinks of as a high-quality candidate may matter less than the candidate’s party affiliation. Nathaniel Rakich, the elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight, says that while as the Democratic nominee Hickenlooper could well beat Gardner, adds “I doubt he’s the only one who could do so.”
Whether that candidate might be Baer is an open question. It’s a crowded field: 15 candidates. Baer is one of the stronger candidates. He has raised $1.3 million so far. (Mike Johnston, a former state senator, has raised $3.4 million.)
The primary is still 10 months away, so the race will only keep heating up. Right now it’s Hickenlooper’s to lose — but the odds against Hickenlooper are higher than he would like.