DENVER – Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has defeated incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in the state’s 2020 U.S. Senate race, according to an ABC News projection.
ABC News called the race Tuesday at 7:40 p.m., with Hickenlooper leading Gardner 57% to 41%, with 52% of precincts reporting.
Colorado’s flipping of the Senate seat is another pickup for Democrats in a year in which they are trying to flip the Senate and regain full control of both chambers on Capitol Hill, and possibly the White House as well.
“Thank you, Colorado! Serving you is the honor of my life, and I can’t wait to be your Senator,” Hickenlooper tweeted.
“It has been such an honor serving the people of Colorado in the Senate for the past 6 years,” Gardner said in a tweet.
In a concession speech delivered shortly after the race was called, Gardner congratulated Hickenlooper and thanked Coloradans for electing him to serve for six years.
“I spoke to Senator-elect John Hickenlooper to congratulate him on his victory tonight, to welcome him to the U.S. Senate and to make sure that he knows I will support him in this transition any way I can to make it as smooth as possible,” Gardner said.
“Please understand – to all the people that supported our efforts tonight, that [Hickenlooper’s success is Colorado’s success,” Gardner said. “And our nation and our state need him to succeed.”
“To the people of Colorado, thank you for this great honor to serve you. This nation’s better days are ahead of us, and let none of us forget that,” Gardner added. “God bless the great state of Colorado and these great United States of America.”
Hickenlooper spoke shortly after 8 p.m. and thanked voters for electing him, saying he was "honored by the trust you've placed in me."
“We’ve got to get Washington working for everybody. Regardless of which party controls the Senate, I will work with anyone and everyone,” Hickenlooper said. “I’ve always believed it’s my job to represent all of Colorado.”
“Tonight, I pledge to you that I will work my heart out for the state that I love,” the former governor added. “And I want to thank Sen. Gardner for his service. I wish him and his family the very best. I want to say to everyone who voted for him, I’ll be your senator as well.”
"On behalf of all Colorado Republicans, I want to thank Senator Cory Gardner for his decades of service to our state. Cory has consistently fought for opportunities to make life better for Coloradans by building a pathway for greater prosperity and opportunity for all,” Colorado GOP Chairman Rep. Ken Buck said in a statement. “I hope his dedication to serve and produce results for Coloradans will continue well in to the future.”
The seat is the first pickup in the Senate of the night for Democrats, who are looking to flip the Senate this year.
With Hickenlooper’s election, Colorado will soon be represented by Democrats in both U.S. Senate seats, the governor’s office, secretary of state’s office, attorney general’s office and state treasurer’s office – the top statewide elected offices.
The result in Colorado’s Senate race is not unexpected. Gardner narrowly defeated Democrat Mark Udall for the seat in 2014, a strong year for Republicans, and the state has voted more consistently for Democrats in the years since.
Gardner’s support for President Donald Trump also hurt him in the state. While Gardner did not vote for Trump in 2016 and said he would stand up to his own party when it was the right time, he and Trump eventually endorsed one another for re-election and campaigned together in February.
And Gardner was criticized in the years since Trump’s election for mostly sticking to Trump’s agenda and failing to hold many public and pre-publicized appearances in his home state over the past four years.
Hickenlooper, himself generally popular in Colorado after eight years as governor that were preceded by six years as Denver’s mayor, waded through plenty of controversy of his own during the election season.
During a failed 2020 presidential campaign, Hickenlooper said he was “not cut out” to be a senator as he was being pressured to drop his presidential bid and run for the seat – something he was routinely questioned about and roundly criticized on when he eventually did so exactly that.
Gardner and the political committees supporting his re-election ran ad after ad about the two ethics violations Hickenlooper was found to have committed this year during his time as governor, which stemmed from dozens of original complaints filed by a Republican former state House Speaker.
The former governor was fined $2,750 for violating the state’s gift ban for the use of a private plane and taking private dinners surrounding the commissioning of the USS Colorado in Connecticut and for taking transportation and meals during a trip to the Bilderberg meeting in Italy while he was governor.
Despite the controversy, voters in Colorado did not waver much in their support for Hickenlooper over Gardner over the past year in what has long been considered a crucial race for both parties in the U.S. Senate.
In a Keating-OnSight-Melanson poll done several times over the past year-plus, Hickenlooper has steadily led Gardner. The final poll by KOM before the election, which was conducted Oct. 29-Nov. 1, found Hickenlooper leading Gardner by 11 points, 53%-42%. Several other polls released in the final days before the election found Hickenlooper with a similar lead.
In October, Hickenlooper led Gardner 51%-41%, with a greater percentage of undecided voters than in the most recent poll.
And the same firm polled what was at the time a theoretical Hickenlooper-Gardner matchup in early May 2020 and October 2019. In May, the poll found 54% of respondents leaning toward a vote for Hickenlooper, compared to 36% leaning toward Gardner. Last October, Hickenlooper led the theoretical matchup 53%-42%.
Gardner’s defeat comes as Colorado’s share of unaffiliated voters continues to grow and the share of registered Republicans continues to shrink in proportion to unaffiliated and Democratic voters. In addition to the top statewide offices all being held by Democrats, the party also holds control of the state House and Senate and is expected to retain control in this year’s election.
This is a developing news story and will be updated.