Senate Candidates on Possible Hick Senate Run: Don't Expect a Coronation

John Hickenlooper in the video in which he announced the end of his presidential campaign.
John Hickenlooper in the video in which he announced the end of his presidential campaign. YouTube
Earlier today, August 15, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper officially ended his presidential campaign, and while he has not yet announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate against vulnerable Republican incumbent Cory Gardner, he's expected to do so soon.

That's potential unhappy news for the nine other Democrats currently vying for the right to take on Gardner. And while the early responses of two major hopefuls to Hick's withdrawal have been polite and supportive, Senator Angela Williams, profiled by Westword this morning, makes it clear she's not willing to cede the nomination to Hick.

As she puts it, "If he thinks there's going to be a coronation, there's not."

In a video announcing his decision to squelch his bid for the presidency, Hickenlooper teased a possible face-off with Gardner. "I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate," he said. "They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state. I intend to give that some serious thought. I’ve been a geologist, a small businessman, a mayor, a governor and a candidate for president of the United States. At each step, I’ve always looked forward with hope. And I always will."

In addition to Williams, the other Dems who've declared against Gardner include former state senator Mike Johnston; onetime speaker of the state House Andrew Romanoff; Alice Madden, who also served as the state house majority leader; ex-U.S. Attorney John Walsh; former U.S. ambassador Dan Baer; Stephany Rose Spaulding, who gave District 5 Representative Doug Lamborn a spirited race in 2018; plus Denver's Lorena Garcia, Englewood's Diana Bray and Superior's Trish Zornio.

At this writing, we haven't heard from Spaulding or Zornio; we'll share their thoughts when and if they get back to us. Meanwhile, representatives for Walsh and Baer said the candidates don't have a comment at this time.

In contrast, Romanoff weighed in early on Hickenlooper's move, sending an email blast within minutes of Hickenlooper's. "As you likely know, John Hickenlooper is withdrawing from the presidential race," he wrote just prior to a pitch for contributions. "I have enormous respect and affection for Governor Hickenlooper, a man I’ve been proud to call a friend for twenty years. I have no doubt he’ll continue to use his considerable talents to advance our nation’s interests in the years ahead. I wish him well in that pursuit."

Senator Angela Williams isn't backing down. - YOUTUBE
Senator Angela Williams isn't backing down.
When we reached out to Romanoff, he shared one more statement: "We’re running out of time to rescue our planet, repair our democracy, and restore the American Dream. We need leaders who will fight for a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and an economy that works for everyone. That’s the kind of senator I will be."

Johnston offered this via email:
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.

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.

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.”
Madden keeps things positive in her take, writing, "I always applaud those willing to put themselves out there by running for office because it takes everything you've got. Personally, I know exactly why I am running: I am driven to do every single thing I can to address the climate crisis, and that starts with advancing an inclusive clean-energy economy. I would be honored to be our first female senator and work to ensure a sustainable future for all."

As for Bray, she draws contrasts between her positions and the moderate vision Hick shopped on the national campaign trail — among them energy policies that have led critics to dub him Frackenlooper. "I am confident that Coloradans are looking for new progressive vision," she writes via email, "and if Governor Hickenlooper does join the US Senate race, I look forward to debating him on many issues, particularly on the topics of climate and public and mental health. I will continue to make my position clear; the support of the fossil fuel industry leads to the end of a livable climate for humanity."

Bray argues that "those people who promote oil and gas development, including Governor Hickenlooper, have bolstered a system that is highly detrimental to our health and safety. Governor Hickenlooper and I have highly differing positions on health care as well, and I am looking forward to continuing the conversation about the merits of a single payer Medicare for All system, one that has the future health of our country at the forefront of its purpose, rather than the profit and greed of the insurance industry."

Garcia, also corresponding by email, notes that "with 24 Democrats running for president, it's not surprising that candidates are starting to drop out. While we will not speculate on rumors about John Hickenlooper's future plans, it's his right to run for senate if he so chooses."

At the same time, Garcia  emphasizes that Hickenlooper's "entrance into the race would not change my campaign. My support is building from the ground up, through my extensive travels across the state meeting with those voters who feel like they are not being represented equitably. I am working full time while I run my campaign because I not only love my job, but I can't afford not to have a job. I'm drawing the support of people who know what it's like to struggle. To struggle with health care, survive while being unemployed, starting your own small business, and the cost of financial security because of student debt. That's the life my wife and I lead, and as we've learned, many other Coloradans do, too. I am an activist. And as a lifelong activist, no matter what happens in this senate race, I will continue working towards justice and equity in Colorado, just as I have for nearly two decades. As a proud Coloradan with seven generations on one side and as a first-generation Coloradan on my mom's side, living and working in both rural and urban communities, I'm seeing a desire from Coloradans for representation in Washington that more accurately reflects their needs and their lives."

And Williams? "I'm sorry that the governor's presidential race didn't work out," she told us. "I know how hard it is to run for office. But I'm running for the U.S. Senate, and I intend to win."

She conceded, "We can't control what Governor Hickenlooper does. But I'm tired of Washington interfering with Colorado voters and trying to decide who they should select as the Democratic nominee. Women and people of color deserve a voice in the U.S. Senate, and Colorado voters should make these decisions on their own. And I feel like I'm the candidate who can give the people of Colorado a voice."

After a pause, Williams provided a preview of how she and other candidates may compete against Hickenlooper. "He's been attacking the progressive values of a lot of women and people of color on important issues, including health care," she allowed. "And that's very unfortunate and disappointing. So I think he'll have some challenges on his hands."

This post has been updated to include statements by candidate Lorena Garcia and Alice Madden.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts