It’s a holiday week, Colorado, so make sure to enjoy yourselves — kick back, relax and rest assured that however you’re celebrating the Fourth of July, you’re probably having a better time than John Hickenlooper.
Just a few months ago, the former governor launched his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in a speech brimming with confidence and lofty aspirations. “At the end of my presidency,” he told the crowd in Civic Center Park, “I want Americans to say: It feels like the cloud has lifted, we feel closer to our neighbors and we’ve gotten big things done.”
Hickenlooper closed his announcement speech with a promise to end the country’s “winter of division,” but it’s looking more and more like his campaign won’t make it out of the summer alive.
The trouble began — publicly, that is — late on Monday, July 1, when Politico broke the news that Hickenlooper's national finance director, Dan Sorenson, had jumped ship to join former Texas representative Beto O'Rourke's campaign. Once considered a top contender for the nomination, O'Rourke sank to just 3 percent support in the latest CNN poll after a disappointing debate performance last week — but that's still better than Hickenlooper, who received less than 1 percent support in the same poll.
And it wasn't just Sorenson. Within hours, a report from ABC News confirmed that at least five key staffers have left the Hickenlooper campaign or will depart in the coming weeks, including communications director Lauren Hitt, digital director John Schueler and New Hampshire political director Nolan Varee. Campaign manager Brad Komar has also been replaced by M.E. Smith, who served as deputy campaign manager for his 2014 gubernatorial re-election bid, the campaign announced Monday.
Hickenlooper's campaign did not respond to Westword's request for comment. But in an appearance on MSNBC Tuesday morning, when Hickenlooper was asked if the departing staffers had resigned or been fired, he said that it was "a combination of the two."
"We felt that it was the right time for a change," he added. "Obviously, there are twenty-some people running. We understand it's a steep hill, but we want to give it our best shot."
But the hits just kept coming on Tuesday. Hours after Hickenlooper's MSNBC interview, Politico published a followup with a headline that speaks for itself: "Hickenlooper campaign in shambles." Before this week's implosion, top campaign staffers last month urged Hickenlooper to drop out of the presidential race and launch a bid to unseat Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, "or pursue other opportunities," according to the story.
Quoting a source familiar with the situation, Politico reports that Hickenlooper “is lashing out at the political professionals around him and surrounding himself with Colorado loyalists rather than confronting reality.”
Hickenlooper qualified, barely, for the first two Democratic primary debates, the second of which will be held in Detroit on July 30 and 31. But the Democratic National Committee announced last month that beginning with the third debate, in September, the threshold will be much higher; candidates will need at least 2 percent support in four different eligible polls and over 130,000 unique campaign donors.
Those criteria will likely eliminate Hickenlooper, who has only polled at 2 percent or higher in a single poll, a Monmouth University survey conducted in April. Hickenlooper's campaign has not released any data for its second fundraising quarter, which ended Monday, but a source told Politico that the campaign has about 13,000 donors — 117,000 fewer than the number he needs before the DNC's August 28 deadline.
Hickenlooper told MSNBC on Tuesday that despite the long odds, he's not giving up yet. But the most memorable quote from his attempt at damage control just underscored what a rough week the future former candidate is having, quickly making the rounds on social media and ending up on the Colorado Republican Party's official Twitter account.
"I'm not always the perfect spokesperson for my own ideas," he said. "But we're working on that."