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Who Will Be the First Democratic Presidential Candidate to Drop Out?

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper may soon hear a different political calling. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Now that we are past the first candidate debates, it’s probably time to stop noting the ever-rising number of Democrats deciding they see the next president of the United States in the mirror, and to start anticipating the body count of prospects dropping out as the money runs out, the opportunities dry up, and other political options beckon.

We’ll know more about money when the second-quarter fundraising totals finish rolling in (only six candidates have released numbers as of this writing). But a bunch of would-be presidents who weren’t doing that well rolling into Miami (or who didn’t make the trip to begin with) and didn’t distinguish themselves there might hear the soft footsteps of the Grim Reaper approaching.

Among them, John Hickenlooper looks like the best bet for an early exit. Politico had the sad story earlier this week, complete with the candidate’s rationalizations:

At least five staffers have left or are leaving Hickenlooper’s struggling operation, including his campaign manager, communications director, digital director and finance director. Hickenlooper named a new campaign manager on Monday night.

Hickenlooper publicly blamed his former staff Tuesday for his failure to gain traction in the crowded Democratic primary.

“We thought it was time to make a change,” he told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin. “You know, these campaigns are long, hard campaigns and you don’t always get it right with the first team.”

That’s true particularly when the first team is the last team, which could be the case here. The picture Politico painted of the status of the Hickenlooper campaign wasn’t pretty:

[A] source said that the campaign only has about 13,000 donors, making it almost impossible to qualify for the next round of presidential debates in the fall. The campaign also only raised just over $1 million in the second quarter — about what he raised in the first 48 hours of his candidacy — and will likely run out of money completely in about a month.

Hope apparently does spring eternal in the candidate’s heart, according to the Associated Press:

According to people who have spoken to him, Hickenlooper still believes the race could break his way. He’s watching whether former Vice President Joe Biden’s stumbles at last week’s debate might provide an opening to play a more dominant role as a leader of the party’s moderate wing.

Hickenlooper thinks he could shine during the next Democratic presidential debate in Detroit later this month. That could help him generate a swell of small-dollar donors who could push him over his greatest obstacle: the Democratic National Committee’s requirement that candidates receive donations from 130,000 people to make the stage of the third debate.

“Hard but doable,” said Alan Salazar, a veteran Democratic strategist in Denver who was once Hickenlooper’s gubernatorial chief of staff but does not work for his presidential bid. “He is one of the best networkers I have ever known, so it’s probably a challenge he wants to take on.”

Meanwhile, another person who used to be Hickenlooper’s chief of staff (as mayor of Denver) may be running him off the road in the narrow “lane” they share as moderate western white men: Senator Michael Bennet. By most accounts, Bennet did better on the debate stage they shared last week (my colleague Eric Levitz ranked Bennet fourth among the debaters, and Hickenlooper ninth). And Bennet has formally reported that he raised $3.5 million in the second quarter, which is quite a bit more than his former boss seems to have collected.

It all has to be baffling for a politician with a long and impressive résumé over two terms as mayor and two as governor, a successful business background, and a solid electoral record in a competitive state. Perhaps it was the wrong year to run as a resolute enemy of socialism — or, as he has called himself, an “extreme moderate.”

Hickenlooper also has an upward exit ramp: Lots of Democrats nationally and in Colorado (including, reportedly, much of his newly departed campaign staff) really, really want him to abandon this hopeless endeavor and run for Senate against Republican Cory Gardner, on whose defeat the Donkey Party’s narrow prospects of retaking the upper chamber heavily depend.

Like a lot of sitting and former governors who are annoyed when people act like becoming a senator would be a promotion, Hickenlooper has suggested he’s “not cut out” to be one of a hundred legislative-branch bloviators. On the other hand, if he could play a role in making the next Democratic administration successful by helping depose Mitch McConnell as the Senate dictator, he might be an extremely popular freshman with extra pull in the cloakroom.

Or maybe Hickenlooper just doesn’t want the opprobrium of becoming the first 2020 presidential dropout.

Who’ll Be the First Democratic Candidate to Drop Out?