Election 2020 Debate

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper talks to reporters after the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

If former Gov. John Hickenlooper decides to ditch his moribund bid for the White House and instead challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, the Democrat will have some campaign website names waiting for him.

Meanwhile, there are signs that Colorado voters are being polled about a possible Hickenlooper run for Senate.

Late Tuesday night, after Hickenlooper appeared on stage at the presidential primary debate in Detroit, a Democratic consultant registered four domain names — Hick4Senate.com, Hickenlooper4Senate.comHickenlooperSenate.com and HickForSenate.com — to make sure they're available for a possible Senate run.

Curtis Hubbard, a principle at OnSight Public Affairs — a Colorado firm that has played key roles in Hickenlooper's two successful runs for governor — told Colorado Politics he secured the domain names after Hickenlooper failed to make a splash on the first night of the second round of the debates.

Hubbard stresses that although he wants Hickenlooper to switch races, he took the step without any encouragement from Hickenlooper or his presidential campaign.

"I wanted to make sure that nobody could go out and squat on them," Hubbard said. "I wanted to make sure that if he did decide to run for Senate that those would be available to him."

At this point, the domain names point toward a generic parking page provided by a company that hosts website.

The registrations and the connection to OnSight were first noticed by Rob Pyers, who runs a nonpartisan site that tracks candidate data.

Hickenlooper has been lagging near the back of the pack of two-dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls, both in national polling and fundraising. As of the eve of the former Colorado governor's Tuesday debate appearance, Real Clear Politics had him averaging 0.4% support in recent national polls of Democratic voters.

Many Democrats -- including, reportedly, some former members of his own campaign staff -- have been urging Hickenlooper to drop his White House bid and instead run for Senate in Colorado, where he was won two statewide elections.

Hubbard says he hasn't spoke to Hickenlooper since January and he doesn't have any particular insight into what he's considering. But, he said he wouldn't be surprised if Hickenlooper made the switch. 

"I think it's pretty clear now after two rounds of debates and two quarters of fundraising that his path has not gotten any easier," said Hubbard, a former Denver Post editorial-page editor.

"I did it entirely of my own accord, but I continue to believe that the best thing John can do for Colorado and the country is to turn his attention to defeating Trump-enabling Cory Gardner and 'Moscow' Mitch McConnell," he said, referring to the GOP Senate Majority leader who could lose his position if Democrats take control of the Senate in 2020.

Added Hubbard: "Democrats have to put forward the strongest possible candidate to defeat Gardner, and Hickenlooper would be that candidate, in my view."

He noted that he's seen recent polling on Hickenlooper's standing with Colorado voters that found 55% view him favorably, substantially higher than Gardner's 40% favorability found in a recent poll conducted by a Colorado Republican firm.

Another recent poll showed that Hickenlooper would be the overwhelming favorite among the state's Democratic voters if he ran for that office.

Two voters told Colorado Politics they were surveyed last week in a telephone poll asking how they would feel about Hickenlooper leaving the presidential primary to run for Senate.

The voters said the poll, conducted by a live interviewer, also asked whether they would prefer Hickenlooper or some of the more prominent Democrats already running for the Senate and tested Hickenlooper in a head-to-head general election match-up against Gardner.

That poll hasn't been released, and it is unknown who conducted or commissioned it.

Publicly, Hickenlooper has given no sign that he's considering switching races.

His campaign announced Wednesday that he's returning to Iowa next week to continue a Winnebago tour in the early caucus state, with several meet-and-greets and a tour of an ethanol plant planned.

The five-day swing culminates in Hickenlooper's appearance at the iconic Iowa State Fair, where he's scheduled to speak at the Des Moines Register Soapbox and visit the Iowa Pork Tent.

"We can't stop now," wrote Hickenlooper campaign director M.E. Smith in a fundraising appeal sent to supporters the afternoon after Tuesday's debate.

"This team has recognized the urgency of this moment and stepped up to support John’s campaign," she wrote. "And watching John debate last night it was easy to see why — his pragmatic policies and progressive values ground him and this campaign, like no one else on that stage."

At the debate, Hickenlooper argued that Democrats "might as well FedEx the election to [President] Donald Trump" if they adopt policies seen as too left-leaning, including the single-payer Medicare for all proposal espoused by some of the primary race's more liberal frontrunners.

And in a series of tweets drawing attention to a moment in Tuesday's debate that drew national attention, Hickenlooper blasted fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls for some of their most ambitious proposals.

"When Democrats try to attack climate change by promising everyone a government job," he tweeted Wednesday along with the hashtag #ThrowYourHandsUp and a gif depicting Hickenlooper and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders doing just that.

Hickenlooper's campaign spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment Friday, but two weeks ago splashed cold water on speculation his boss might switch races.

"The governor is running for president and believes there are several very qualified candidates who can beat Cory Gardner," said Hickenlooper's communications director, Peter Cunningham, in a July 19 email.

Hubbard said he believes there's still plenty of time for Hickenlooper to depart the historically large prudential primary field and return to Colorado for a Senate bid.

"You only need to look at Cory Gardner's entry into the 2014 race," he said.

Gardner joined a large field of Republican 2014 Senate candidates in late February that year, effectively cleared the field and went on to unseat the incumbent senator, Democrat Mark Udall — something that hadn't been done in Colorado in 36 years.

"There's certainly time, and I would suspect that, if done right, [Hickenlooper] can continue to make the presidential campaign serve as an effective platform for a Senate bid," Hubbard said. "Emphasis on 'if done right.'"

"But it is a moment in our history where we need people to step forward and stop Trump from packing the courts with judges who want to overturn Roe v. Wade, from enacting environmental policies that are damaging to the planet," he added. "And John is pragmatic enough and cares enough about Colorado and the country that we'll see that at some point."

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