As had been expected, former State Senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston has joined the 2020 race for U.S. Senate.
The Denver Post had the official announcement this morning:
The 44-year-old father of three joins a growing list of Democrats competing for the chance to challenge Gardner in what is expected to be one of the most high profile and contentious Senate races in the country in 2020. Gardner, a first-term senator, is the only Republican to win a Senate, gubernatorial or presidential race in Colorado since 2008.
Johnston is not the first Democrat to enter the field for 2020, though his is the first name with any real chance of winning the Democratic nomination (sorry, Lorena Garcia, Trish Zornio, and Keith Pottratz). Plenty of other Democrats are also looking to squeeze into the 2020 clown car, including former House Speakers Andrew Romanoff and Crisanta Duran. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is also regularly mentioned as a potential candidate, though it seems much more likely that Hick will stick to his Presidential aspirations in 2020.
Johnston wheezed to a third-place finish in last June’s Primary for Governor, so the big question for him is whether or not he’s already reached his political ceiling as a statewide politician. Johnston looks like a fine General Election candidate on paper, but can he make it to November? This is, after all, the same guy who pulled out of the caucus/assembly process altogether in 2018 after it became clear that he didn’t have a strong base of support among the Democratic base. As Corey Hutchins of the Colorado Independent wrote in April 2018:
Since March 6, Johnston has been showing up and giving speeches at county assemblies, but he hasn’t caught fire with the delegates to the extent that Kennedy and Polis have.
Johnston has long been packaged as an up-and-comer who takes a different approach to electoral politics; his 2018 campaign, however, managed to be both vanilla (“Frontier Fairness“!) and gimmicky at the same time. If his 2020 Senate kickoff is any indication, Johnston is still “turkey and Swiss on wheat.” From today’s Denver Post:
“I think one of the things that gives me a real advantage is people are looking for someone who represents Colorado,” Johnston told The Denver Post in announcing his run. “I’m a fluent Spanish speaker, and I’ve had a diverse set of experiences and jobs in all parts of Colorado.”
“He Speaks Spanish and He Likes Colorado” probably won’t end up on a yard sign anytime soon.
Nevertheless, Johnston could still be a formidable candidate because he has demonstrated an ability to raise serious money from donors all across the country. One of the main reasons that then-Rep. Cory Gardner was able to waltz into the 2014 Republican nomination for U.S. Senate was the complete inability of GOP candidates to raise significant funds for a viable campaign (See: Stephens, Amy).
Early money and a head start on other candidates are very real advantages for Johnston. Of course, Johnston had these same advantages in the 2018 gubernatorial race, and it only got him about 24% of the Democratic vote.