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John Hickenlooper just clinched a key Senate seat for Democrats in Colorado

Hickenlooper has flipped a must-win Colorado Senate seat blue.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper flips a key seat for Democrats.
Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has won the Colorado Senate race, defeating Sen. Cory Gardner and flipping a key seat for Democrats.

Hickenlooper’s win was somewhat expected. Colorado is a state that has been trending blue for years, and as the state’s popular former governor, Hickenlooper was a natural fit. While the race was not entirely a breeze for the Democratic candidate, his Republican opponent had a much steeper hill to climb.

Gardner ultimately could not overcome President Donald Trump’s dismal approval rating in Colorado, a state that has been influenced politically by an influx of younger, liberal voters. The first-term Republican senator from Colorado was long viewed as one of Republicans’ most vulnerable incumbents. Gardner beat a Democratic incumbent in 2014 in part by promising to be “a new kind of Republican” — one who would pass bipartisan legislation with Democrats and support clean energy.

But Gardner also could not win reelection without help from Trump’s base in Colorado, putting him in a bind on how much to embrace the president and how much to hold Trump at arm’s length. Pollsters in Colorado have watched for years as moderate Republicans have departed from the party and switched to unaffiliated — turned off in part by the president.

“The moderates are being run out of the party, top to bottom,” David Flaherty, of Colorado-based Republican polling firm Magellan Strategies, told Vox this summer. “It’s really a math problem for all [GOP] candidates, not just Cory Gardner.”

Ultimately, Gardner’s talent as a politician wasn’t enough to save him.

“Gardner is one of the best incumbents [Republicans] have running; it’s just that he’s running in one of the toughest states for them,” said Cook Political Report Senate editor Jessica Taylor.

Hickenlooper cuts a middle-of-the road profile. He ran on working with state Republican lawmakers as governor from 2011 to 2019, and he has vowed to work with Republicans in Washington, DC, to seek bipartisan compromise.

“I’m old enough, I’m never going to get seniority, I’m not going to be fighting to be the chair of a committee,” Hickenlooper told Vox in a fall interview. “I’m going to be that foot soldier in the trenches that takes the time, weeknights, and weekends to build relationships with people in my party and the other party.”

Even so, Hickenlooper has not ruled out supporting curtailing or eliminating the Senate filibuster — the 60-vote threshold that has held up many bills over the years.

“If push comes to shove, I have to look at everything. There’s no question,” he told Vox.

The Democrat also told Vox his main priority in 2021 would be passing more Covid-19 relief and economic measures to help create job growth in a still-lagging economy. Hickenlooper also wants to address climate change; his state has seen historic, devastating wildfires this summer.

“I honestly believe Congress is going to have to go back to the more traditional approach of doing several things at once,” Hickenlooper said. “I know it sounds heretical, but we’re facing serious timelines, whether you’re talking about health care and actually getting to universal coverage. ... We’re also going to have to rebuild the economy, and rebuild it in a way that respects the environment, respects the American worker, but begins to address the issues of equity.”

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