- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

DENVER (AP) - Former state Sen. Mike Johnston will kick off the 2018 Democratic primary on Tuesday by announcing that he’s running for governor.

The early move by Johnston, a former teacher, high school principal and Obama education adviser who’s been active in Colorado school issues for several years, is a sign of the contentious gubernatorial campaign ahead. Incumbent governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is termed out in 2018, and the contest to replace him will likely feature an all-star list of politicians from both sides of the aisle competing to win their party’s nominations.

Republicans had contested primaries in 2010 and 2014 as they tried to defeat Hickenlooper, but Colorado Democrats haven’t had a truly open gubernatorial primary for nearly 20 years. Top possible Democratic candidates include former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Denver businessman Noel Ginsburg has already announced he’s running for the party’s nomination, and speculation has swirled around other Democrats like former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and state Rep. Joe Salazar.

Johnston, whose term representing northeast Denver ended last month, has long been expected to run for his party’s nomination. A Teach for America alum who wrote a book about his time teaching in rural Mississippi, Johnston was elected to the state Senate in 2009 and helped draft the legislation creating the state’s teacher evaluation system. In an interview, Johnston, 42, touted himself as “someone who can stand up and fight for Democratic values, which I have a history of doing, and someone who can ensure opportunity for all Coloradans.”

Republicans are expected to have a busy gubernatorial primary as well, with potential candidates including district attorney George Brauchler and state treasurer Walker Stapleton.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Johnston was termed out of the Colorado State Senate last month.

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