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Elections

Senate Candidates Fight DSCC over Hickenlooper Endorsement

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper speaks on the first night of the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Six Democratic women running in the Colorado Senate primary to challenge Republican senator Cory Gardner next November have written an open letter to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), asking that it rescind its early endorsement of former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.

“All of us, like many women in Colorado and across the country, have seen well-qualified women passed over for male candidates in the workplace time and again,” the six women wrote. “Now, the DSCC, by its endorsement, is implying that we should defer to a male candidate because you seem to believe he is ‘more electable.’”

Until a little over a week ago, Hickenlooper was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, but in a video announcing an end to his presidential campaign in mid August, he teased a possible Senate run. “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.”

On the road for his presidential campaign earlier this year, Hickenlooper downplayed the possibility of challenging Gardner. “I’m not cut out to be a senator,” he said at a campaign stop in Iowa in late February. “Senators don’t build teams. Senators sit and debate in small groups, which is important, right? But I’m not sure that’s my — I’m a doer.”

Both Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and DSCC chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.), along with other national Democrats, had approached Hickenlooper about running for the Senate in Colorado instead of pursuing his long-shot presidential bid. Now that he’s taken their advice, the DSCC has quickly decided to back his effort.

Late last week, the DSCC suggested it would support Hickenlooper, tweeting just after his formal campaign announcement, “@Hickenlooper is running against Cory Gardner — the most vulnerable Republican up in 2020! If we want to end the gridlock, cut the costs of health care and prescription drugs, and act on climate — we need to flip this #COSen seat.”

On Monday, DSCC spokesperson Lauren Passalacqua told Denver7 News that it would officially support Hickenlooper: “John Hickenlooper is far and away the strongest candidate to beat Cory Gardner, and we’re proud to support him in his run for Senate.”

That decision has rankled the six women also competing for the chance to face Gardner next year. “We should point out that in the last several campaign cycles, Washington Democrats have recruited candidates with profiles similar to Governor Hickenlooper with much fanfare, only to see those candidates come up short in the general election,” their letter said.

“What is more troubling is Hickenlooper’s rhetoric throughout his failed Presidential bid he derisively referred to progressives as ‘socialist’ and paternally lectured us on how our progressive values will ‘re-elect Donald Trump,’” it went on.

One of the women, Colorado state senator Angela Williams, published an op-ed in Sentinel Colorado last Friday in which she criticized Hickenlooper for failing to be progressive enough. “It’s clear that Governor Hickenlooper is considering running for the senate only because his presidential ambitions didn’t work out, not because he actually wants the job,” Williams wrote.

There’s little question that Hickenlooper has the best name recognition of the Democrats vying to replace Gardner, who’s widely considered the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection next year. (Hillary Clinton carried Colorado by nearly 5 percentage points in 2016.) When it comes to electability, the DSCC was wise both to recruit and to endorse the former governor. But when it comes to pacifying the more left-wing segments of the party, the immediate rush to crown him might have been premature.

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