John Walsh announcement

Democrat John Walsh, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, is pictured in a video produced by his campaign for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat.

John Walsh, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, on Wednesday suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat and endorsed primary rival John Hickenlooper, saying that the state's former governor "offers our best clear opportunity to defeat Cory Gardner next year."

Walsh, who entered the race in April, is the second Democrat to withdraw from the crowded primary field since Hickenlooper entered the race on Aug. 21 after mounting an unsuccessful White House bid. Last week, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, the fundraising leader among the Democratic Senate candidates, suspended his campaign but didn't make an endorsement.

Walsh said in an email to supporters Tuesday morning that he intends to support the party's nominee but has concluded that Hickenlooper is the Democrat in the best position to unseat Gardner, the Republican incumbent.

"His long record of fighting for Coloradans is unmatched and leaves no doubt in my mind that he will win this campaign, and that he will make an outstanding senator," Walsh said. "I am proud to support him in that crucial effort — because winning back this Senate seat has been and remains my entire focus."

Walsh's withdrawal leaves 10 candidates running in the primary for the chance to face Gardner, who is seeking a second term and is one of only two GOP senators running for re-election next year in a state carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Some of the remaining primary candidates and other Democrats have called on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to rescind its endorsement of Hickenlooper, arguing that the national organization should stay out of the primary and let Colorado voters pick the nominee.

Walsh told Colorado Politics that he wasn't pressured by anyone to drop out of the race.

"When John Hickenlooper got in the race, the question always had to be, who is the best person to beat Cory Gardner?" Walsh said. "Because that's the only reason I was in the race in the first place."

Hickenlooper released a statement Wednesday morning after Walsh's announcement.

"My friend John Walsh is a great Coloradan," Hickenlooper said. "He has spent his career fighting to give everyone a fair shot at the American Dream, and he ran a strong campaign based on that same fundamental principle. I'm honored to have his support in my campaign for U.S. Senate and look forward to hitting the trail with him to defeat Cory Gardner."

Walsh raised $776,000 through the end of the last quarter and had reported having $580,000 in the bank. It was the third-best fundraising total among the Democrats for the quarter, behind Johnston's $1.6 million and the $1.1 million raised by former ambassador Dan Baer, who served in Hickenlooper's cabinet last year as director of higher education.

Among Walsh's contributors were former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who both chipped in the maximum $2,800 for the primary. Robin Hickenlooper, a vice president at Liberty Media and the former governor's wife, donated $2,600 to Walsh's campaign. (She also donated $2,800 to Baer's campaign last quarter.)

Walsh said Wednesday he hasn't decided what he'll do next but added that he's considering how to allocate the funds remaining in his Senate account.

"The one clear forward path that I have in mind now is to do everything I personally can, both to assist Gov. Hickenlooper and Democrats all up and down the ticket for the election next year," he said. "I just think so much is on the line. How we do that, how I do that, may well include those funds." 

Said Walsh in his email to supporters: "Failure is not an option. Nothing less than the future of our democracy is on the line."

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