A Democratic group that supports electing scientists to public office has launched a campaign to encourage former Gov. John Hickenlooper to drop his 2020 White House bid and run for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat.
The 314 Action Fund — named for the first three digits of pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter — on Tuesday unveiled a DraftHickForSenate.com website and announced a "six-figure" digital ad campaign to build grassroots support and raise campaign donations for the former geologist, who served two terms as mayor of Denver and two terms as governor.
The group also released a poll showing Hickenlooper leading the Republican incumbent, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, by 13 percentage points among Colorado voters and 17 percentage points among the state's unaffiliated voters.
“Gov. John Hickenlooper has a proven track record of reaching across the aisle and getting things done in Colorado, and as governor he oversaw legislation that brought health insurance premiums down, instituted universal background checks on guns and reduced methane emissions to combat the threat of climate change," said Josh Morrow, 314 Action Fund's executive director, in a statement.
"The only way to send Mitch McConnell to the minority is with a win in Colorado, and John has the best opportunity to defeat America’s most vulnerable senator. 314 Action Fund and its grassroots network of nearly 1 million scientists and pro-science advocates are ready to stand with John — a scientist, entrepreneur and pragmatic progressive — and we hope he will put service over ambition and run for US Senate in 2020.”
Hickenlooper has said he's focused on his presidential campaign and dismissed pressure to challenge Gardner — "I don't think it's my calling," he told reporters in Iowa last month — but last week refused to rule out a Senate bid.
"As the only scientist running for President, I understand what's at stake for our future if we don't #ActOnClimate now," Hickenlooper tweeted Tuesday morning.
Hickenlooper holds a master's degree in geology from Wesleyan University.
A spokesman for Hickenlooper's campaign declined to comment on the political action committee's announcement or the poll, which was conducted by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.
The survey found Hickenlooper leading Gardner 51% to 38% in a hypothetical match-up, according to a polling memo released by PPP. Hickenlooper leads Gardner 51% to 34% among unaffiliated voters, who make up the largest share of Colorado's electorate, the memo said.
In addition, the poll found Hickenlooper has a positive net-favorability among Colorado voters, with 45% viewing him favorably and 38% viewing him unfavorably, compared to Gardner's underwater position, with 30% viewing him favorably and 49% unfavorably.
Critics told Colorado Politics Tuesday that they questioned the poll's accuracy, since 38% of respondents told pollsters they were Democrats, compared to 32% who said they were Republicans and 31% who identified as independents — a much higher share of Democrats than the state's voter registration or turnout statistics suggest.
But the pollster dismissed the criticism, telling Colorado Politics that Democrats "always have a bigger party identification advantage in polls in Colorado than they do by registration."
"It’s probably the same people who complained about our polls being biased last winter when we were first out of the gate to show Mike Coffman losing," said Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen in an email.
The poll, conducted Aug. 8-11 in phone interviews and over the internet, surveyed 739 Colorado voters. It has a margin of error of 3.6%.
A spokesman for Gardner's campaign declined to comment on the poll, and many of the Democrats already running in the Senate primary shrugged off the latest word that national groups are trying to pressure Hickenlooper into the race.
"I am in this race because I believe not only that I'm the best person to beat Cory Gardner, but also because I have the experience to achieve real, progressive results for Colorado," said Mike Johnston, a former state senator, in a statement to Colorado Politics.
Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker, said in a statement: "We’re building support across the state and gaining momentum every day. Coloradans are eager to replace Cory Gardner with a senator who answers to us."
Alice Madden, a former House Democratic leader, said: "Ultimately it's up to John to decide what job he wants to run for, but I am putting 100% of my efforts toward becoming Colorado's first female Senator and true clean energy champion."
In all, 11 Democrats are running in the primary.