Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will run for Senate

Hickenlooper left presidential race last week

By Jeff Zeleny, Dan Merica and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN
Win McNamee/Getty Images

John Hickenlooper

DENVER - Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced his Senate candidacy on Thursday, giving Democrats a widely known contender to take on a vulnerable GOP incumbent a week after Hickenlooper dropped out of the presidential race.

"I've always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who knows how to get things done -- but this is no time to walk away from the table," Hickenlooper says in his campaign announcement video. "We ought to be working together to move this country forward and stop the political nonsense. I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot. I'm not done fighting for the people of Colorado."

Hickenlooper's entry into the Colorado Senate race is a key get for Democrats who have been struggling to recruit candidates in their effort to win control of the Senate in 2020. He will seek to challenge Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican seen as one of the most vulnerable lawmakers in 2020.

While his national profile and experience as the state's former chief executive make him the favorite to be the eventual Democrat nominee, Hickenlooper will first have to win the Democratic primary, as more than a dozen candidates from his party have thrown their names into the ring.

The former governor announced his 2020 presidential candidacy in March but ended his bid last week after failing to break out of the crowded field of Democratic candidates. Hickenlooper's moderate message struggled to gain traction, and he faced the possibility of not making the next Democratic debate in September. His campaign also lost three of its most senior staffers in early July.

Hickenlooper was initially resistant to running for Senate, spending the first few months of his presidential campaign knocking the idea. But he met with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer last month and signaled that his interest in the race had changed.

Early Thursday morning, before his formal announcement, Hickenlooper's Senate website was already posted with the homepage reading: "I'm running to give Colorado's priorities and values a voice in Washington."

In his campaign video, Hickenlooper took aim at Washington politicians for trying to exclude health care coverage of pre-existing conditions, high drug prescription costs and leaving public lands "to developers instead of sportsmen." He also highlights climate change, arguing that "we're running out of time" to confront the crisis.

Hickenlooper's campaign video was filmed at Wynkoop Brewing Company, the large brewpub that he, as a laid-off geologist at the time, opened in 1988 that went on to help reinvigorate the LoDo area of Denver.

The success of Wynkoop -- and Hickenlooper's connections to Denver that grew out of that -- led him to successfully run for mayor of Denver in 2003, a position he held for eight years before serving two terms as Colorado's governor from 2011 to 2019.

Hickenlooper was re-elected in 2014, an election cycle that saw a number of Democrats lose their jobs. Gardner won his Senate seat by about 2 percentage points that same election year, in which Republicans claimed the majority in the Senate.

Gardner is defending his seat in a state that Donald Trump lost by 5 percentage points in 2016.

Republicans have 22 Senate seats to fend off from Democrats this election cycle, while Democrats are up in 12 seats.

Republicans currently hold 53 seats in the Senate, while Democrats have 45 as well as two independents who caucus with the party. In 2020, Democrats will have to gain four Senate seats if Trump is reelected, given that the vice president serves as a tie-breaking vote — or win the White House and net three Senate seats for control.

Pressure has also been on for former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to drop their longshot Democratic presidential bids and launch campaigns for US Senate in their home states.

This story has been updated.

CNN's Nicolas Neville contributed to this report.

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