Former state Sen. Mike Johnston effectively ended his Democratic primary bid for U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
Johnston, who had been the top fundraiser in the crowded race to face U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner next year, announced he is suspending his campaign. He cited former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s entrance into the contest as the prime reason.
“As we looked out at the road ahead, what I saw is to win this Democratic primary would now require an expensive and a negative campaign. And that’s not who I am,” he said in an interview with The Colorado Sun. “I think no race is worth conceding victory to a brand of broken politics that I’ve spent my life trying to change.”
The news comes less than two weeks after Hickenlooper abandoned his presidential ambitions to enter the Senate race. Hickenlooper’s bid immediately shook up the Democratic field of more than 10 candidates, with his intraparty rivals, including Johnston, vowing to stay in the race.
In an attempt to quash the notion that Hickenlooper is the Democrat with the best chance of winning back the seat, Johnston’s campaign last month went so far as to release a poll showing that he too could beat Gardner in 2020.
But Johnston said in an interview with The Sun that he ultimately realized the only way he could win his party’s nomination at this point was to spend a lot of money and time attacking Hickenlooper. He feels that nasty battle could put the Senate seat in jeopardy.
Johnston, who entered the race on Jan. 31, said a battered Democratic nominee would only have the effect of helping Gardner and Republicans keep the U.S. senate and win.
“I don’t think that is good for us, or good for the country, or good for the nominee,” he said. “… For me with the climate crisis and the future of the Supreme Court and the core tenets of democracy on the line, I just couldn’t take that risk.”
He said as his campaign evaluated how it would move forward with Hickenlooper in the race, he didn’t like what that looked like. “With Hickenlooper’s name ID around the state, the conversation always starts with ‘why not John Hickenlooper,'” Johnston said.
Johnston says he still feels like he had a path to being the Democratic nominee and would have been a strong general election candidate. He just wasn’t willing to do what it would take — tearing Democrats apart — to get there.
He has not made a decision on endorsements or what to do with the millions of dollars he has left in his campaign account.
Hickenlooper said in a tweet that “Johnston is a friend, a tremendous public servant and a great Coloradan. He’s always put the good of the state and indeed country first. I know he will continue to help Colorado do great things going forward.”
Gov. Jared Polis reacted to the news on Tuesday by praising Johnston. “Mike Johnston is an inspiration, smart and effective leader and I know that our state and nation will continue to benefit from his desire to create real change,” Polis said in a written statement.
Johnston is the first candidate to exit the contest since Hickenlooper’s announcement. He also ran for Colorado governor in 2018, but fell short in the Democratic primary.