John Hickenlooper, the former Colorado governor whose low-key brand of moderate politics made him popular in his home state but limited his appeal in a Democratic primary filled with urgent progressive energy, is expected to announce on Thursday that he is ending his presidential campaign, according to two people familiar with his planning.
Mr. Hickenlooper has been seriously considering a run for the Republican-held Senate seat in Colorado that is up for election in 2020 — a key pickup target in the Democrats’ strategy to try to retake control of the Senate. The Democrats familiar with Mr. Hickenlooper’s planning said they did not expect him to make an announcement about a Senate run on Thursday.
Mr. Hickenlooper, 67, is set to end a White House bid that never gained significant traction and struggled so acutely that top staff members departed. Mr. Hickenlooper failed to break through in the polls, raised less money than most of his competitors and was all but certain to miss the cutoff for the Democratic debates in September.
A failure to qualify for the debates would have added to a growing list of humbling moments for Mr. Hickenlooper, who is also a former Denver mayor and a former brewpub owner. All too often he found himself in front of small, distracted crowds at campaign events. He was mistaken at one point for a member of the news media and at another for a different Democratic presidential candidate.
Mr. Hickenlooper had been in discussions about withdrawing from the presidential primary since at least early this month and running for the Senate instead. Colorado is a purple battleground state, and flipping the seat currently held by Senator Cory Gardner is all but mandatory if Democrats hope to have any chance of retaking the Senate.
Recent polls showed Mr. Hickenlooper with a more than 50-point lead over the current leading Democrats in the race for party’s nomination for the Senate seat; they also showed him ahead of Mr. Gardner by 13 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup.
Mr. Hickenlooper has largely resisted the idea of running for Senate. But this month, as his presidential campaign lurched along, Mr. Hickenlooper’s communications director told CNN he had not “closed the door to anything.” Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, has spent months trying to recruit Mr. Hickenlooper to enter the Senate contest. And during a recent trip to Iowa, Mr. Hickenlooper hopped into the car of Colorado’s Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, to discuss his impending decision.
On policy, Mr. Hickenlooper sought to carve out space for himself as a moderate option for voters during an election cycle that has seen progressive ideas flourish. A successful entrepreneur who helped open a chain of Midwestern pubs and restaurants, Mr. Hickenlooper staunchly defended capitalism and rejected socialism — even when it earned him disdain.
In kicking off his campaign, he also pitched himself as a unifier who could help mend what he called a “crisis of division.” But in a partisan era in which many Democrats are seething with anger toward President Trump, messages about compromise and compassion, from Mr. Hickenlooper and some of his rivals, have largely fallen on deaf ears.
As it turned out, the July debates would be Mr. Hickenlooper’s final opportunity to speak to millions of Americans at once. He spent much of the evening pushing back on liberal policy ideas like “Medicare for all” and the Green New Deal. And with momentum behind the more popular and progressive candidates onstage with him, Mr. Hickenlooper at times appeared under strain.
And yet, when it was his turn to give a brief closing statement, he began by expressing only unbridled enthusiasm.
“What a night,” he said. “I’ve loved it.”