Vail native Mike Johnston drops out of US Senate race |

Vail native Mike Johnston drops out of US Senate race

With John Hickenlooper in, an early favorite in the race to take on Cory Gardner is out

Mike Johnston is a former state senator who was born in Vail.
Andy Cross, Denver Post

Despite massive fundraising success and polls showing him in the upper tiers of a crowded field, Vail native and former state Sen. Mike Johnston bowed out of Colorado’s 2020 U.S. Senate race on Tuesday, citing what he predicts will be a negative and expensive bid for the Democratic nod to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.

“To win this Democratic primary would now require an expensive and negative campaign,” Johnston said in a lengthy statement. “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.”

Hick’s big reversal

Johnston raised a non-incumbent record $1.8 million in the first quarter of the year and reportedly had more than $2.6 million to spend, but then came the announcement last month by former Gov. John Hickenlooper that he was bowing out of the presidential race. A week later, Hickenlooper jumped into the Senate race and became the immediate favorite.

“Mike Johnston is a friend, a tremendous public servant and a great Coloradan,” Hickenlooper tweeted Tuesday. “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.”

In January, when he first announced his Senate campaign, Johnston told the Vail Daily that Hickenlooper was clearly focused on a White-House-or-bust strategy and was not particularly interested in the upper chamber of Congress.

“[Hickenlooper] seems pretty busy in Iowa and New Hampshire right now, which makes me strongly believe he’s got bigger plans than running for the U.S. Senate, so unless he’s opening a Wynkoop Brewery in Des Moines, I think he’s probably on the route to do something big,” Johnston said of Hickenlooper, the former Denver brewpub owner turned mayor and governor.

A long string of statements from Hickenlooper seemed to indicate he would not run for Senate, but something clearly changed in mid-August as a growing chorus of political analysists and Democratic Party insiders urged a culling of the presidential herd in order to also recapture the Senate. Politico recently predicted the Dem field would not just clear out for Hickenlooper.

Reactions from other candidates

Former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, who was dueling Johnston in the polls and plans to stay in the Senate chase, had this to say on Twitter:

“I’ve gotten to know Mike, to meet his family & to admire his extraordinary gifts — especially over the last 7 months. While we found ourselves on different sides of this race, we share not just a Democratic Party but a deep commitment to democracy. Both are stronger because of him.”

Former U.S. attorney for Colorado John Walsh, who’s also seeking the Democratic nod, emailed this statement on Johnston: “Mike Johnston ran a great race. He was a gracious candidate and presence on the campaign trail. Lisa and I wish him and his family all the best in their future endeavors.”

Current Gov. Jared Polis, who beat Johnston in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, offered this statement: “Mike Johnston is an inspirational, smart, and effective leader and I know that our state and nation will continue to benefit from his desire to create real change.”

A spokesman for Gardner declined to comment.

Johnston’s decision to drop out

Here’s Johnston’s full statement:

“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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