DENVER | State Sen. Mike Johnston on Thursday announced he will run against U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, becoming the first prominent Democrat to challenge the senator widely considered to be the most vulnerable Republican in the nation.
Johnston, 44, is a former teacher, principal, Obama campaign aide and two-term state senator who carved out a high-profile role in education legislation. His support of charter schools and a new teacher evaluation system angered teachers unions who took out ads attacking Johnston in last year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.
He finished third in the race, but is considered a charismatic candidate and skilled fundraiser.
“We want to put Colorado back on the path to the values that people really care about here,” Johnston said in an interview Thursday.
Gardner, also 44, is likewise a champion fundraiser and retail politician. He is a former Trump critic turned defender of the president who endorsed Trump’s re-election bid on Wednesday. In 2016, Gardner rescinded his endorsement of Trump after a recording surfaced of the reality television star bragging about sexually assaulting women. But Gardner helped oversee Republican senate races last year in which the party gained two seats as its candidates embraced Trump in conservative-leaning states.
Trump lost Colorado to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and then Democrats won every statewide race there last year in what was widely seen as blowback to Trump.
Several other prominent Colorado Democrats are mulling races against Gardner, including former state House Speakers Crisanta Duran and Andrew Romanoff.