The Atlantic

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet

John Hickenlooper said his calling was to run for president. With that dream dead, does he have a new vocation to run for the Senate?
Source: Scott Audette / Reuters

If a candidate leaves a primary and no one was ever supporting him, did he really leave it? And for that matter, was he even ever really a candidate?

These are a few of the philosophical questions raised by John Hickenlooper’s exit from the Democratic race, perhaps best pondered with some of the finest cannabis in the Rocky Mountain State, which legalized weed during his governorship; or if that’s not your thing, maybe a pint from Wynkoop, the Denver brewery Hickenlooper co-founded.

But enough philosophical navel-gazing and on to practical concerns: As Hickenlooper announces his decision to leave the race today, he faces the concrete question of whether to jump into the U.S. Senate race in Colorado against the Republican incumbent, Cory Gardner.

Hickenlooper’s departure is unlikely to leave too many voters without a champion in the race. In the latest Hill/HarrisX poll, he drew zero voters. Not zero percent—though that, too. Zero individual voters. (In his defense, he was not the only candidate to poll so poorly, and he did better, slightly, in other polls.)

As the reporter Mark Barabak waggishly noted, Hickenlooper’s announcement has drawn more press attention than anything he did during his campaign. In a generic presidential cycle, it’s possible to imagine Hickenlooper breaking through—just not in this overstuffed, star-studded one. Sure, he’s not the most dynamic or charismatic candidate, and sure, his campaign was shaky enough that he had to tear down and rebuild it just a month ago. But he’s also an affable, successful two-term governor with a sunny disposition and a record of enacting liberal legislation—especially on gun control—while working with Republicans.

That record could still serve him in good stead if he could use it with a set of voters who already know him—like, say, Colorado voters. Since Hickenlooper entered the race, Democrats nationwide have whined that he should have been running for Senate instead. Hickenlooper never really had much chance in the presidential race, they argued. But given his previous statewide success, Gardner’s weakness, and the importance to Democrats of making gains in the Senate, it made more sense for him to run for that seat.

Hickenlooper isn’t expected to announce whether he’ll run immediately, but rumors have swirled for days that he will. There are, however, some complications. For one, Hickenlooper would be leaving one crowded field and joining another one, with many Democrats already in the race.

Then there are the comments he’s made while running for president.

“I’m not cut out to be a senator,” Hickenlooper said in 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. That’s what gives me joy.”

“I don’t think that’s my calling,” he said again in July.

Then again, he’s been a geologist, a brewer, and a politician. Sometimes you take the job you can get, not the job you want.

Curiously, the other Democratic primary news this week comes from another candidate whom the party sought to recruit for a U.S. Senate race. After narrowly losing a race for the governorship of Georgia last year, Stacey Abrams was mentioned as both a Senate and presidential candidate. She resisted calls to run for Senate, but kept her national options ostensibly open until this week, when outlets finally reported what had seemed to be the case for some time: Abrams isn’t running for president. Instead, she’s working on expanding voting access.

As the presidential primaries progress, this cheat sheet will be updated regularly.

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The Democrats


A retired California hedge-funder, Steyer has poured his fortune into political advocacy on climate change and flirted

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