Politics

Mike Johnston Bows Before the Power of Hick, Leaves U.S. Senate Race

Mike Johnston has suspended his U.S. Senate campaign despite millions in the bank.
Mike Johnston has suspended his U.S. Senate campaign despite millions in the bank. YouTube file photo
Former state senator Mike Johnston was the last person most political observers expected to be the first dropout from Colorado's 2020 U.S. Senate race after ex-governor John Hickenlooper announced his candidacy. But the common wisdom was wrong: Despite having the largest war chest of any hopeful not nicknamed Hick, Johnston has officially pulled the plug.

The complete statement from Johnston, who also tried to become Colorado governor in 2018, is below. But one excerpt reads: "To win this Democratic primary would now require an expensive and negative campaign. That is not who I am, and no race is worth conceding victory to a brand of broken politics that I have spent my life trying to change."

Was the fix in? Plenty of Dems came to that conclusion after the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's insta-endorsement of Hickenlooper, including six women running for the right to unseat ripe-for-the-picking Republican Cory Gardner. And more evidence that they were right popped up minutes after Johnston's announcement. The time stamp on his email blast to the press about suspending his campaign reads 12:35 p.m. today, September 3 — and at 12:44 p.m., Hick tweeted in response, writing, "Mike 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."

The move does indeed seem intended to endear Johnston to national Dems in regard to runs for office down the line, as well as to avoid pissing off the sort of donors to whom he's demonstrated substantial appeal. By the end of June, he'd already accumulated $2.6 million for his assorted fundraising efforts, more than all his previous rivals combined, and the money continued to flow until Hickenlooper leaped into the fray. He could have kept going all the way to next year's Democratic primary had he minded his pennies, only to go down in flames anyhow. He obviously decided that making sure his reputation stayed intact for an undefined future contest was the smarter play, just as Hickenlooper did when he abandoned his doomed presidential bid in favor of targeting the U.S. Senate.


Here's what Johnston had to say:

"The most rewarding parts of my life have come when I was part of a team: a team of teachers building a school; a team of legislators passing laws to fight the climate crisis or stop gun violence; a team of citizens helping elect a president.

"Over the last eight months, we have built an incredible team of people bound by a shared mission: to defeat Cory Gardner and take back the U.S. Senate; to deliver progressive solutions on the climate crisis, democracy reform, immigration and guns; and to restore people’s faith in politics and each other.

"Over the last few weeks we have reached a place where those goals are at odds. The campaign we would need to run to win this race would violate my basic values in politics and could risk us losing this Senate seat.


"To win this Democratic primary would now require an expensive and negative campaign. That is not who I am, and no race is worth conceding victory to a brand of broken politics that I have spent my life trying to change.

"That divisive process would break long-standing relationships in this state and would only increase the chances that a battered Democratic nominee would help Gardner win and help McConnell keep control of the Senate. With the climate crisis, the future of the Supreme Court, and the core tenets of our democracy on the line, the stakes are too high for me to take that risk. I cannot be true to my values and lead a campaign that abandons the politics of what is possible in favor of a politics of attack, or a campaign that puts at risk the very goal my family entered this race to accomplish. That is why today I am suspending my campaign for the U.S. Senate.

"I am not walking away from the work of building our democracy, but running towards it. I believe in this work more deeply than ever, and believe we need leaders of courage and conviction in a time of crisis. I am deeply committed to advancing the work we have started and will remain dedicated to fighting the climate crisis and fixing our broken democracy.

"I know there will be other moments to serve in other ways, but when you’re part of a team, it does not matter what role you play, it matters what result you deliver. When you remember that the team is bigger than you, you find your place not according to what serves you best, but what serves us best."
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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