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Democratic Establishment Backing of Hickenlooper's Colorado Senate Run a 'Recipe for Disaster,' Warn Progressives

"He would join the Senate as a conservative Democrat who has already pledged to block most progressive priorities."

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tells the crowd at the California Democrats 2019 State Convention at the Moscone Center on June 01, 2019 in San Francisco, California that socialism is bad. He was roundly booed.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tells the crowd at the California Democrats 2019 State Convention at the Moscone Center on June 01, 2019 in San Francisco, California that socialism is bad. He was roundly booed. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Progressives in Colorado and nationwide are expressing frustration after establishment Democrats threw their support to John Hickenlooper for U.S. Senate—a campaign he announced last week after dropping his long-shot bid for president.

"Hickenlooper’s presidential campaign was a genius move to make Democrats so desperate to push him off the presidential stage that many would forget that he would join the Senate as a conservative Democrat who has already pledged to block most progressive priorities," tweeted Justice Democrats communications director Waleed Shahid.

On Monday, The American Prospect's Alexander Salomon argued that Hickenlooper has already proven himself to be not up to the task of winning in 2020, whether running for president or the Senate:

If his presidential campaign is any indication, Hickenlooper is content to make a reputation for himself as more spoilsport than ally. His debate contributions were overwhelmingly focused on frustrating the emerging Democratic agenda rather than advancing it. That mentality, combined with a fading star of electability, is not a winning recipe. It may not be what Chuck Schumer wants, but there are better options out there for Colorado.

Hickenlooper's entrance into the fray for the seat currently held by Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican. There are a dozen candidates running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gardner, but, a day after Hickenlooper announced on August 22 his intent to run for the seat, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) officially endorsed him. 

That's frustrated his primary opponents. As former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, one of the Democrats vying for the nomination, told The Intercept's Aida Chavez:

I don't want this to become just like a quaint tradition, where somebody in Washington just passes on head and says, 'You know what, we'll take it from here—no need to trouble yourself with all that pesky voting and participation.'

It's actually a recipe for disaster, in some ways, in the general election, because if you tell voters from Colorado that their voice doesn't matter—then why would they show up in November?

Trish Zornio, a scientist and educator, echoed Romanoff's gripes with the DSCC.

"Being a team player does not require total compliance," Zornio said in an interview with The Denver Post.

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Despite his endorsement by the party establishment, Hickenlooper seems intent on running as an outsider. In a video announcing his candidacy, the former governor hit on a number of well-worn cliches about running for the seat as an outsider.

"Look, I'm a straight shooter," Hickenlooper says in the video, which was shot in a pool hall. "I've always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who wants to get things done. But this is no time to walk away from the table. I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot."

Hickenlooper's record as governor doesn't inspire much confidence in his interest in progressive legislation, particularly around climate. The former governor in February 2013 infamously admitted drinking fracking fluid to prove how safe it was and wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post in March that argued the Green New Deal is destined to fail due to its ambition and reliance on the public sector. 

Despite the former governor's record, Hickenlooper—who is also a geologist—is supported by advocacy group 314 Action, which aims to elect scientists to office. 

"With Governor Hickenlooper in the race, we have a stronger chance to flip the Senate and take real action on climate change," the group's president Shaughnessy Naughton told The New York Times.

But, as Boston-based activist Jonathan Cohn pointed out, Hickenlooper's positions don't reflect a commitment to science, despite his academic pedigree. 

"Pretty stunning that 314 Action is pushing so hard for Hickenlooper despite his history of peddling junk science on fracking and marijuana," tweeted Cohn.

Hickenlooper will still have an uphill path to the nomination, not least for a comment made during his presidential run when the former governor said he was "not cut out for the Senate." Primary opponent and former state Rep. Joe Salazar seized on that statement in comments to the The Denver Post about Hickenlooper's candidacy and record.

"With Hickenlooper's entry into the senatorial field, people have receipts and they're going to show them," said Salazar. "And they have the right to do that."

"Hickenlooper really stepped in it when he said he's not cut out to be a senator," Salazar added. "People are going to show why he's not."

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