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Politics and Government

Why John Hickenlooper says he is running for U.S. Senate after repeatedly claiming it’s a job he doesn’t want

The Democrat and former Colorado governor said, for as much as he's talked about the dysfunction in Washington, it would be wrong if he didn’t step up and try to fix it

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to reporters on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, the day he announced he was running for U.S. Senate. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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John Hickenlooper said Thursday that he decided to run for U.S. Senate — a job he repeatedly said he didn’t want and wasn’t suited for — because he has been talking for months about dysfunction in Washington, D.C. 

It would be wrong, he reasons, if he didn’t step up and try and fix it now when presented with the opportunity. 

“I look at how dysfunctional Washington is, and I know I’ve criticize it relentlessly, and I can either take cheap shots and poke at it or actually try and be part of the solution,” he said. “I think this is a moment where I feel compelled —  that I bring something to the table.”

The Democrat announced his Senate candidacy very early Thursday morning in a video that attempted to directly address the question that will likely dog his campaign: After months of rebuffing calls to try to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner next year, what changed? 

MORE: John Hickenlooper officially announces bid for U.S. Senate, one week after abandoning presidential ambitions

In an interview with The Colorado Sun, Hickenlooper echoed much of what he said in that recording — that he’s simply not done with politics, even though he still thinks congressional gridlock doesn’t really suit him.

“Washington, D.C., is a lousy place if you’re someone like me who likes to get stuff done,” he told The Sun. “I still believe that.”

Why does he want the job? “I think I can make a difference in Washington,” he said.

Hickenlooper brushed off growing attacks from some of his 11 Democratic rivals in the Senate primary who say that it’s time for a new generation of leadership. 

“Obviously there’s a lot of talent in this field, and I think everyone is going to make their own case to the voters,” he said. “And that’s it. I’ve got a unique experience.”

He also rejected arguments from the liberal wing of his party who argue he’s too cozy with the oil and gas industry. When asked about how he will respond to those naysayers, he said he’ll point to his work as governor. 

Democratic presidential candidate and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks during a rally held to help kick off his presidential campaign at the Greek Amphitheater in Denver’s Civic Center Park on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“I think Colorado is, in many ways, a national model for how you push back on climate change,” he said. “We were the first state to get methane regulations. When I was mayor we created FasTracks — 122 miles of light rail — that’s the most significant transit initiative and sustainable transit initiative in modern American history. We built a framework to build rapid recharging stations for electric vehicles. We’re closing a couple coal plants in Pueblo that will be replaced with wind, solar and batteries.”

Finally, he also sidestepped criticism from Gardner and Republicans that he and the rest of the slate are embracing ideas that are too progressive or socialist. 

“Being a U.S. Senator for Colorado is not a consolation prize,” said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign arm. “We agree with John Hickenlooper. He is ‘not cut out to be a Senator’ and we intend to litigate his very long and liberal record as a career politician to ensure Coloradans understand why.”

Hickenlooper campaigned against Democrats embracing socialist ideas in his presidential bid.

“If he’s going to try and call me a socialist,” Hickenlooper said with a chuckle, “so be it.”

As Hickenlooper kicked off his campaign, several of the Democrats in the race reiterated their vows to stay in the contest and went on the attack, challenging his progressive credentials and calling for a new voice from Colorado in the Senate. 

MORE: “This won’t be a coronation.” If Hickenlooper wants to be a U.S. senator, he needs to clear many hurdles

“There are new voices ready to lead across our state and in the U.S. Senate, voices who understand that there is no back to normal, there’s only forward to normal,” said Dan Baer, a Obama-era diplomat and Hickenlooper cabinet member who had been mostly mum on the former governor’s candidacy. “That’s why I was running yesterday, and that’s why I’ll be running tomorrow.”

Former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff released a statement attacking Hickenlooper and likening him to Gardner.

“The best way to defeat Cory Gardner is to present a clear alternative. Echoing his talking points will inspire no one,” Romanoff said. 

Hickenlooper has railed against Medicare For All — though he supports a public health insurance option — and said the Green New Deal’s goals are unattainable, despite supporting its concept.

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“As Colorado’s next senator, I’ll lead the fight for a Green New Deal. They’re leading the fight against it. I’ll champion Medicare for All. They’ve vowed to defeat it,” Romanoff said. 

State Sen. Angela Williams, another candidate in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, piled on. “Hickenlooper has failed to fight for the progressive solutions our state and country need,” she said.

Hickenlooper said he finally made his decision to join the Senate race after a lot of thought and several deep conversations with his wife, Robin. 

“You have to try to put all the facts on the table and really address who you are,” he said of his process of deciding to get in.