Election 2020 John Hickenlooper

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper plans to drop out of the Democratic presidential primary on Thursday as he considers challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, according to two sources close to his campaign.

The former brewpub owner and two-term mayor of Denver plans to announce his decision in a video on Thursday morning, the sources tell Colorado Politics, bringing an end to his longshot campaign after more than five months of struggling to gain traction in a historically crowded primary field.

Hickenlooper doesn't plan to say on Thursday whether he is running for the Senate, a source close to his campaign tells Colorado Politics, but he plans to announce his intention to take on Gardner soon — potentially within days.

Pitching himself as a seasoned executive who has enacted the kind of ambitious policies only promised by his primary rivals, Hickenlooper never emerged from the lower reaches of the pack in polls or fundraising.

Several national polls conducted since the second round of Democratic candidate debates in Detroit July 30-31 show the Coloradan at 0% support after rounding.

Following lackluster appearances in the first two Democrat primary debates, it appeared increasingly unlikely that Hickenlooper would meet the polling and fundraising requirements to qualify for the third one in September — potentially further dampening his prospects and hastening the decision to end his White House bid, a source close to his campaign said.

Hickenlooper's convivial, aw-shucks manner, while familiar in his home state, failed to catch on with the national Democratic base, but the self-described "pragmatic progressive" has led the charge against some of his fellow Democrats' more left-leaning proposals, warning that running on policies considered "too extreme" could "FedEx the election to [President] Donald Trump."

Hickenlooper's recent attacks on proposals like Medicare for all and the Green New Deal as "socialist" stand in contrast to an early stumble, when the multimillionaire refused for days to say whether he considered himself a "capitalist."

In another momentum-sapping incident just weeks into his campaign, Hickenlooper spoke at length about the time he accidentally took his mother to see the pornographic film "Deep Throat" during his only nationally televised town hall.

He has said for months that he is focus is entirely on the presidential race and dismissed calls to jump to the Senate race, even as pressure from national Democrats has mounted.

But since reportedly meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York after the last presidential primary debate, Hickenlooper has been careful to stress that he wouldn't rule out running for a seat Democrats consider crucial to the party's chances of taking the majority in the Senate.

And last Friday, before they joined the other Democratic hopefuls at a fundraising dinner, Hickenlooper drove around a small Iowa town with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, his former chief of staff and the other Coloradan in the presidential race, fueling speculation that Hickenlooper was contemplating a switch to a Senate run. 

Some in Colorado with ties to both Hickenlooper and Bennet had expressed discomfort that both men were in the presidential race.

Recent polls of Colorado voters found that Hickenlooper would immediately be the overwhelming frontrunner in the Senate primary, running more than 50 percentage points ahead of the next-closest candidate in one survey. Another poll released Tuesday showed the popular former governor leading Gardner by 13 percentage points. 

Curtis Hubbard, a Democratic consultant whose firm worked on Hickenlooper's two winning gubernatorial campaigns, set tongues wagging late last month when he registered a slew of domain names for a potential Hickenlooper Senate run, including Hick4Senate.com.

Further stoking speculation, a national Democratic group dedicated to electing scientists to public office on Tuesday launched a campaign to draft Hickenlooper, a former geologist, into the Senate race.

Eleven Democrats already are running in the Senate primary, including former state Sen. Mike Johnston, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, state Sen. Angela Williams, former ambassador Dan Baer, former U.S. Attorney John Walsh and former state House Majority Leader Alice Madden.

While Johnston and Baer each outraised Hickenlooper during the second quarter of 2019, he'll be able to transfer any funds left over from his presidential to a Senate campaign, and Democrats say national groups stand ready to pour contributions into his coffers.

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