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John Hickenlooper, Ending Presidential Bid, Will Give Senate ‘Serious Thought’

John Hickenlooper, the former Colorado governor whose low-key brand of moderate politics made him popular in his home state but limited his appeal in a Democratic primary filled with urgent progressive energy, announced on Thursday that he was ending his presidential campaign.

Mr. Hickenlooper has been seriously considering a run for the Republican-held Senate seat in Colorado that is up for election in 2020 — a key pickup target in the Democrats’ strategy to try to retake control of the Senate.

“Today, I’m ending my campaign for president,” he said in a videotaped statement. “But I will never stop believing that America can only move forward when we work together.”

“I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate,” he added. “They remind me how much is at stake for our country. And our state. I intend to give that some serious thought.”

A recent poll showed Mr. Hickenlooper with more than a 50-point lead over the current leading Democrats in the race for the party’s nomination for the Senate seat; another poll showed him ahead of Mr. Gardner by 13 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup. Those surveys were conducted by Democratic polling firms.

After Mr. Hickenlooper’s announcement, the advocacy group that commissioned one of the polls urged the former governor to challenge Mr. Gardner.

“As mayor of Denver and governor, John Hickenlooper did what was right for Colorado, and what is right for Colorado now is for him to defeat Cory Gardner,” said Josh Morrow, the executive director of the group, 314 Action Fund. “In the Senate, Gardner has pushed the far-right Trump agenda harder than Trump himself.”

Mr. Hickenlooper is one of a handful of presidential candidates, including former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who have been encouraged by some Democrats to drop their bids for the White House and run for the Senate.

At first, he was largely resistant to the idea. But this month, as his presidential campaign lurched along, Mr. Hickenlooper’s communications director told CNN that the former governor had not “closed the door to anything.” Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, has spent months trying to recruit Mr. Hickenlooper. And during a recent trip to Iowa, Mr. Hickenlooper hopped into the car of Michael Bennet, Colorado’s Democratic senator and another presidential candidate, to discuss his impending decision.

[Who’s in? Who’s out? Keep up with the 2020 field with our candidate tracker.]

In kicking off his presidential campaign, Mr. Hickenlooper pitched himself as a unifier who could help mend what he called a “crisis of division.” But in a partisan era in which many Democrats are seething with anger toward President Trump, messages about compromise and compassion from Mr. Hickenlooper and some of his rivals have largely fallen on deaf ears.

On policy, he sought to carve out space for himself as a moderate option for voters during an election cycle that has seen progressive ideas flourish. A successful entrepreneur who helped open a chain of Midwestern pubs and restaurants, Mr. Hickenlooper staunchly defended capitalism and rejected socialism — even when it earned him disdain.

Mr. Bennet, who served as Mr. Hickenlooper’s chief of staff during his tenure as Denver’s mayor, said Thursday that Mr. Hickenlooper had “helped shape the presidential race with his pragmatic viewpoint.”

“He provided a valuable voice in this primary, bringing the ideas and solutions he successfully championed in Colorado to the national debate,” Mr. Bennet said in a tweet.

Rick Ridder, a campaign strategist and organizer in Colorado and a longtime friend of Mr. Hickenlooper, said the former governor had always done well by presenting himself more as a brewery owner than a politician — even though he had been elected several times to serve as one.

“The presidential campaign made John Hickenlooper look a lot more like a politician than a brewer,” Mr. Ridder said. “I think he was uncomfortable in that role.”

Mr. Ridder also said he believed that Mr. Hickenlooper’s candidacy was harmed by the rules around qualifying for the presidential debates.

“What these debates have done is accelerate the timing so a lot of candidates don’t quite have the time to find their voice,” Mr. Ridder said. “John was working on trying to find his voice, and yet he was thrown into the cauldron before he was ready.”

Mr. Hickenlooper is the second candidate to withdraw from the Democratic presidential field since it expanded significantly in the spring; Representative Eric Swalwell of California exited the race in July. Twenty-three others are still seeking the nomination.

As it turned out, the July debates would be Mr. Hickenlooper’s final opportunity to speak to millions of Americans at once. He spent much of the evening pushing back on liberal policy ideas like “Medicare for all” and the Green New Deal. With momentum behind the more popular and progressive candidates onstage with him, Mr. Hickenlooper at times appeared under strain.

And yet, when it was his turn to give a brief closing statement, he began by expressing only unbridled enthusiasm.

“What a night,” he said. “I’ve loved it.”

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