Decision 2020: Cory Gardner vs. John Hickenlooper (CO Senate)

Alyssa Gruneberg ’24

John Hickenlooper. Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

In an election year unlike any other, the future of the country and the power of the next president could be decided by a few key Senate races. One of the most competitive races is between John Hickenlooper (D) and Cory Gardner (R) in Colorado. Gardner, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in the 2014 Republican midterm wave, is now one of the most vulnerable incumbent GOP senators due to the state’s Democratic shift and his own strong alliance with President Donald Trump. Hickenlooper is a former two-term mayor of Denver from 2004 to 2010 and a two-term governor of Colorado from 2011 to 2019. He was highly regarded by the public, but failed to gain traction in the Democratic presidential primary—he announced his Senate campaign soon after dropping out of the race. This race is critical because if Hickenlooper wins, it would be a huge step towards Democrats regaining control of the Senate for the first time since 2015. A Democratic majority Senate would help Biden achieve his policy goals or help thwart Trump’s second-term agenda.

As of October 15, polls show Hickenlooper is averaging 50% support and Gardner stands at 40%. The state of Colorado has also shifted to the left. In the 2016 election, Trump lost by 5 percentage points, and in 2018 Democrats won the governor’s office by 11 percentage points. Democrats have targeted Gardener since he narrowly won his first race in 2014, so he needs strong Republican support to keep his seat. This means that he must appeal to Republican voters by supporting President Trump and not criticizing him too harshly. Hickenlooper has now outraised Gardner over the course of the campaign with $36.8 million in total contributions, compared with Gardner’s $25.3 million. Both candidates are spending heavily on TV advertising. Hickenlooper spent $13.3 million from July through mid-October and Gardner spent $10.5 million, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of TV contracts filed with the FCC. However, a major Democratic group recently pulled its last remaining ads from Colorado’s Senate race, a sign that the party thinks Hickenlooper has the crucial race in the bag.

Cory Gardner. United State Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

In the candidates’ final and most recent debate, they were both asked whether they think President Trump is moral and ethical. Gardener revoked his endorsement of Trump in 2016, but responded yes, confirming that he has endorsed the President for the 2020 election. Gardner criticized Hickenlooper for promoting environmental policies that would put “230,000 Coloradans” in the oil and gas industry out of work. Hickenlooper responded by saying that he did not think the economy had to be punished to achieve reductions in pollution and address climate change, highlighting one of the main issues of concern for Coloradans. Both candidates agreed that it is important for Congress to pass another coronavirus relief bill; Gardner pointed out that Hickenlooper opposed a Republican relief bill that died in the Senate in August and Hickenlooper called on Gardner to demand a vote on coronavirus relief before Judge Barrett’s confirmation. However, Hickenlooper refused to say whether or not he would support court packing if Trump’s nominee is confirmed. Other issues of importance included the future of the Affordable Care Act, the effectiveness of universal background checks in gun control, and abortion law in Colorado.

Although it appears that Hickenlooper has the polling advantage, nothing is certain until election day. Colorado is slowly but surely losing its status as a swing state, and with Trump trailing Biden by 13 percentage points on average, Gardner will be relying on voters to split their ballots if he has a chance of reelection. This is a key race that could shape the future of the Senate and power of the next president, and for those reasons it is certainly one worth paying attention to.


Fish, S. (2020, October 16). Hickenlooper demolishes fundraising gap with Gardner in final stretch of Colorado’s U.S. Senate race. The Colorado Sun. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from

Frank, J. (2020, October 13). Gardner says Roe v. Wade is “settled law” in final U.S. Senate debate, as Hickenlooper talks court packing. The Colorado Sun. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from

Panetta, G. (2020, September 18). GOP Sen. Cory Gardner defends his seat against Democrat John Hickenlooper in Colorado. Business Insider. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from

Riccardi, N. (2020, October 14). Cory Gardner Defends Record, Trump’s Morality In Final Debate With John Hickenlooper. CBS Denver. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from