DENVER — John Hickenlooper on Tuesday won the Colorado Democratic Senate primary, easily defeating Andrew Romanoff despite a series of gaffes, a state ethics violation, and calls from leftist activists for him to withdraw.
With most precincts reporting, Mr. Hickenlooper led by 60% to 40%, setting up a contest in November against first-term Sen. Cory Gardner, viewed as one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Republicans.
Mr. Hickenlooper, the former two-term governor, benefited from near-universal name recognition against Mr. Romanoff, the former Colorado House Speaker, who was backed by the party’s increasingly potent left wing.
“Thank you, Colorado,” Mr. Hickenlooper said in a video post. “For years, I ran brewpubs. I wandered into politics because I believed I could make a difference for people, and I’ve never quit believing that, never more so than tonight.”
Mr. Romanoff said late Tuesday that he had called Mr. Hickenlooper to congratulate him and pledge his “full support” in the general election, a must-win for Democrats hoping to flip the Senate.
He tweeted his thanks to the Sunrise Movement, a supporter of the Green New Deal, and “allies across the country for inspiring me—and all of us in & out of public office—to step up the fight for environmental, economic & social justice.”
Colorado environmentalists had thrown their support behind Mr. Romanoff after bristling for years over Mr. Hickenlooper’s support for the oil-and-gas industry. As governor, he famously drank fracking fluid to prove its safety and fought off challenges to the industry from environmental groups.
That progressive opposition wasn’t enough to bring down Mr. Hickenlooper, who enjoyed the strong backing of the Democratic establishment. National groups ploughed millions into the race in the final month as he struggled with missteps, such as when he said in a debate that George Floyd had been shot.
He drew criticism when a 2014 video emerged of him comparing his life as a politician to being on a “slave ship”—he apologized—and the Independent Ethics Commission fined him for accepting transportation, lodging and meals in 2018 that exceeded the state limit.
Environmental and indigenous activists called over the weekend for Mr. Hickenlooper to withdraw from the race after photos emerged of him wearing a feathered headdress and “squaw” outfit at the One Shot Antelope Hunt, an annual Wyoming sporting event.
Mr. Gardner, who ran unopposed in the primary, upset then-Sen. Mark Udall in 2014, but he faces a difficult reelection battle against the popular former governor in a state that has rapidly trended blue.