First One Out? John Hickenlooper Bleeding Staff, Losing Money, Pressured to Drop Out

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) has fallen on bad times. He may become the first 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to drop out of the race.

Hickenlooper's senior advisors urged him to withdraw from the presidential race last month, according to a groundbreaking POLITICO report from Alex Thompson and Nolan McCaskill. Staff encouraged him to run for Colorado's Senate seat or pursue another path, an anonymous source told the paper.

According to the source, the campaign has only about 13,000 donors, making it almost impossible for him to reach the 65,000 unique donors required to compete in the second round of Democratic debates on July 30-31. The campaign managed to raise just over $1 million in the second quarter of 2019, about the same amount Hickenlooper raised in the first 48 hours of his candidacy. It will likely run out of money in a month.

At least five staffers have left or are leaving the campaign, POLITICO reported. Defectors include the campaign manager, the communications director, the digital director, and the finance director. Hickenlooper named a new campaign manager on Monday.

The candidate blamed his staff for his failure to gain traction in the Democratic primary, but a source familiar with the situation said Hickenlooper is lashing out at political professionals and surrounding himself with Colorado loyalists, staving off the inevitable.

While the campaign sent an email to supporters on Monday announcing "we crossed the finish line of last night's June fundraising sprint in great shape," he admitted the numbers were less than stellar in an interview with MSNBC's Craig Melvin.

"We certainly haven’t raised $24 million," Hickenlooper conceded, referring to the second-quarter fundraising hauls reported by the campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind.

"I’m not going to get into it until we pull the numbers together," Hickenlooper said. "But the bottom line is for a small campaign like us … it’s harder to raise money because we’re not promising free health care or, you know, to forgive free tuition for everyone, forgive student debt."

Hickenlooper's former finance director, Dan Sorenson, left to work on former Rep. Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke's campaign.

The former Colorado governor met the polling requirement to qualify for the first debate and the upcoming July debate. He seems less likely to qualify for the September and October debates, however. Candidates must report 130,000 unique donors and hit 2 percent in four qualifying polls in order to compete in the fall. The latest CNN poll shows the former Colorado governor at 1 percent.

With more than twenty candidates in the race, Hickenlooper is struggling to gain traction. Since he is one of the more moderate candidates, he is less likely to galvanize the base. In last Thursday's debate, he spoke for a mere five minutes, less time than six of the other candidates. He only had more time than Andrew Yang, New Age guru Marianne Williamson, and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).

Nationwide Democratic leaders want Hickenlooper to run for U.S. Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) — chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — have urged him to run against Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). Hickenlooper has rejected this idea.

"You never quit," he told Melvin. "You can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control how you respond. And her big push was, you know, you never quit. You just keeping trying other things until you make it work."

With all due respect, Mr. Governor, stop trying to make "President Hickenlooper" happen.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.