The race has been called—John Hickenlooper is headed to Washington. The Democratic challenger unseated incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado’s hard-fought contest for the U.S. Senate. Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado and former mayor of Denver, has earned over 55 percent of the vote while Gardner, a former U.S. congressman who has served one term in the Senate, won 40 percent after initial results were released Tuesday evening. The Associated Press called the contest at 7:50 p.m.

“Tonight, your message is loud and clear. It’s time to put the poisonous politics of this era behind us and come together to move forward,” Hickenlooper said in a videotaped statement on Tuesday night. “I want you to know that I am honored by the trust you put in me, and I’m deeply committed to the job ahead.” 

The race between Hickenlooper and Gardner was scrutinized nationally as Democrats push to regain control of the U.S. Senate. Hickenlooper’s victory could ultimately be part of a wave of Democratic victories, as challengers in places like Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina also wage competitive campaigns. Gardner’s loss marks a continuing leftward shift in Colorado, where he was one of the only (and by far the most prominent) statewide elected Republicans.

While Democrats knew that Gardner’s seat was within reach—it was held by Democrat Mark Udall before Gardner’s 2014 victory—Hickenlooper initially did not seek his party’s nomination, despite the urging of the national Democratic Party. In March 2019, Hickenlooper launched a long-shot run for president. He withdrew from the race in August 2019 after failing to gain traction and joined the Democratic primary later that month, where he faced a large, diverse field of candidates.

Ultimately, despite saying he was “not cut out to be a senator,” Hickenlooper defeated former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the March 2020 primary, setting the stage for a showdown with old acquaintance Cory Gardner.

(Read more about Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper’s 15-year relationship

In a message to supporters released on Tuesday night, Gardner thanked constituents and congratulated Hickenlooper on his win. “A moment ago, I spoke to Senator-elect John Hickenlooper to congratulate him and welcome him to the United States Senate, and to make sure that he knows that I will support him in this transition in any way that I can,” he said. “And please understand to all the people who supported our efforts tonight, that his success is Colorado’s success. Our nation and our state need him to succeed. We need to be united together.”

When Hickenlooper arrives in Washington D.C. in January, it may well look very different than it does today. As of Tuesday night, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Senate, which has been controlled by Republicans since 2014, was essentially split, with a number of key races yet to be called. 

In his remarks, Hickenlooper mentioned this divide and promised to bridge the partisan gap. “Regardless of which party ends up controlling the Senate, I want you to know that I will work with anyone and everyone to help Coloradans,” he said. “There’s a lot to do, and Lord knows the system in Washington is a broken mess. But I’m an optimist. I know this country is ready to begin a new chapter, so tonight I will pledge to you that I will work my heart out for the state that I love. I will do everything I can to bring common sense and decency to our work.” 

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.