The good news for Vail native and former Denver state Sen. Mike Johnston is he’s now polling second among Democrats in his bid to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020. The bad news is he’s 51 percentage points behind the leader, former Colorado governor and Denver mayor John Hickenlooper. And “Hick” hasn’t even decided to run for Senate.
Still, Johnston’s 2-point lead over former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff (10 to 8) is an improvement over polling earlier in July that showed Johnston third behind Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Romanoff. In that poll, Griswold was still considering running for Senate; she’s since decided not to get into the race.
Johnston is not getting a lot of national recognition in a race seen as vital to Democrats regaining control of the Senate. In fact, some cable news outlets are flat-out botching both his name and his state. But in the race to report out Hickenlooper’s withdrawal from the presidential race, Johnston is being gracious to the former governor.
Here’s a re-post of RealVail.com’s story on Johnston’s position that ran in the Vail Daily on Thursday:
Johnston respectful of Hick’s ‘enormous choice’ on Senate run
Back in January, Vail native and U.S. Senate hopeful Mike Johnston joked that unless John Hickenlooper was in Iowa looking to open another brewpub, the former governor was clearly focused on the presidential race and not taking on Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020.
Turns out the former state senator from Denver was right about Hickenlooper, who ultimately jumped into the crowded presidential race. But on Thursday morning Hickenlooper announced he’s pulling out of that race and seriously considering seeking the Democratic nod to take on Gardner – making the former two-term governor and Denver mayor the instant favorite.
Now Johnston is being polite about the possibility of Hickenlooper upending the U.S. Senate race.
“I respect the governor’s decision to leave the presidential race. He has led a distinguished career of service that has changed Colorado for the better, and as both his friend and as someone who has faced the same decision, I understand the enormous choice he’ll make in the coming weeks about whether or not to join the Senate race,” Johnston said in a prepared statement.
Back in January Johnston seemed to think it was the White House or bust for Hickenlooper.
“[Hickenlooper] seems pretty busy in Iowa and New Hampshire right now, which makes me strongly believe he’s got bigger plans than running for the U.S. Senate, so unless he’s opening a Wynkoop Brewery in Des Moines, I think he’s probably on the route to do something big,” Johnston said of the former Denver brewpub owner.
But Hickenlooper never really caught on with Democrats on the national stage, and Johnston’s statement on Thursday was far more amicable than what current Denver state senator and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Angela Williams sent out:
“I’m sorry Gov. Hickenlooper’s presidential race didn’t work out,” Williams said. “But he spent his time in Iowa running for president and as governor working and campaigning against bold, progressive solutions that will move Colorado and the country forward. If he’s going to switch gears and run for the Senate, he has a lot to explain to Colorado voters. This won’t be a coronation.”
And therein lies the moderate versus progressive battle being waged throughout the Democratic Party right now. Hickenlooper, who often jousted with progressives in Colorado – especially on the natural gas fracking front — took it upon himself to go after sweeping progressive policies in the presidential race, from the Green New Deal to Medicare For All.
Johnston chose not to tackle Hickenlooper on the policy front in his statement Thursday.
“I decided to run for U.S. Senate for two simple reasons: first, I think I’m the right candidate to relentlessly challenge and defeat Cory Gardner, and I know I can effectively work in the Senate to make progress on the issues that matter most like the climate crisis, gun safety and health care,” Johnston said.
In early polling last month, Johnston was third behind former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff and Secretary of State Jena Griswold – who later decided not to run. In more recent polling, Hickenlooper would have a whopping 51-point lead over any other Dem and would be leading Gardner by 13 points.
Gardner, an early critic and now staunch ally of President Donald Trump, is fighting an uphill re-election fight in a state won by Hillary Clinton by five points in 2016. Gardner was peppered with questions from Democrats at a recent campaign event in Minturn.
A spokesman for Gardner declined to comment on Hickenlooper’s decision on Thursday.
Hickenlooper is seen nationally as Colorado’s best hope of helping Democrats retake the U.S. Senate in 2020.
“…I will never stop believing that America can only move forward when we work together,” Hickenlooper said in a YouTube video posted Thursday morning. “I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate. They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state. I intend to give that some serious thought.”
But Johnston, who raised $1.8 million in the first quarter of this year – a new Colorado record for a non-incumbent in their first quarter – is staying in the race. He’s received donations from people in all 64 Colorado counties and is refusing PAC (political action committee) donations.
“I am so grateful for the support we have received from people in places across the state, am energized by the campaign that lies ahead, and excited to win back control of the Senate and get to work for the people of Colorado.”