Gardner vs. Hickenlooper: Colorado’s U.S. Senate candidates on 13 issues

In Colorado’s high-profile U.S. Senate race, former Gov. John Hickenlooper and incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner bring very different visions for the country.

As ballots drop and the state’s voters prepare to decide a contest that could help determine control of the Senate, here’s where Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Gardner, a Republican, stand on 13 key issues:

Supreme Court

Gardner has voted to confirm 98% of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. He supports taking a vote before Inauguration Day on Trump pick Amy Coney Barrett. This is a reversal of position from 2016, when, nearly a year out from that year’s election, he opposed a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee because, he said, it was too close to the election to fill the seat.

Hickenlooper supported Merrick Garland’s confirmation in 2016, but he says because Republicans created a new precedent that year by declining to vote on Garland, the same standard should apply now, and he opposes Barrett’s nomination. He has expressed mixed but mostly skeptical feelings in the past when asked whether Democrats should try to expand the court with new seats to flip the power balance, and he’s been mum on this topic lately.

Donald Trump

Gardner was critical of Trump during the 2016 election and said he did not vote for him. Things have changed significantly since then, and Gardner was an early Senate endorser of Trump’s reelection bid. He voted against impeaching the president earlier this year, and Trump has thanked him publicly at various points for his loyalty.

Hickenlooper called for impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump in mid-2019 and then slammed Gardner and the GOP-controlled Senate for its handling of the impeachment trial. He has been consistently critical of the president and has centered much of his messaging this election on Gardner’s closeness with Trump.

Black Lives Matter and police

Gardner condemned the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, but, remarking on the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he said he supports police having the ability to “stop the carnage that is happening” in the streets. When asked earlier this year about the president calling for law enforcement and National Guard troops to “dominate” protesters, Gardner said merely that he hadn’t heard those remarks.

During a Senate primary debate, Hickenlooper responded to a question about what “Black Lives Matter” means to him by saying that “every life matters.” He later said he misspoke and that he is proud to stand with anyone who, like him, wants to combat systemic racism. As Denver mayor, he hired as a consultant one of the leading advocates for “broken windows” policing — that is, cracking down on minor crimes — which has been shown to lead to over-policing of nonwhite communities.


Gardner describes himself as a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, and he consistently receives “A” grades from the National Rifle Association. His campaigns have taken in more money from the NRA than those of nearly any other member of Congress. When asked about gun violence — such as the fact that Colorado has been home to several mass shootings — Gardner consistently mentions mental health support as the first step.

Hickenlooper, as governor, came to support new gun safety laws later than most other Democrats in the state. In 2013, following the Aurora movie theater shooting, he signed two new gun laws — one requiring background checks for purchases, the other limiting magazine size. By early last year, when he was running for president, he’d made gun safety a central campaign theme. As a Senate candidate, he has called for universal background checks and a national assault weapons ban.

Health care

Gardner has called the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional and been a critic of it for the past decade. He says a replacement for the ACA must ensure people with preexisting conditions are covered – something the ACA requires – and has introduced legislation he says would do that. The bill has not progressed in the Senate and has been widely criticized by health care policy experts.

Hickenlooper has held to the position that most people want a solution somewhere between repealing the Affordable Care Act and enacting Medicare for All. That solution, he says, is a government insurance plan. Hickenlooper has said he expects everyone would eventually sign on to a public option, leading to a government-run health insurance system. Colorado’s uninsured rate dropped dramatically while he was governor.


As part of what he calls his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, Gardner is a supporter of the oil and gas industry and opposes any attempts to ban hydraulic fracturing, widely known as fracking. Gardner has avoided making direct links between human activity such as fracking and climate change, though scientists say those links are clear.

Hickenlooper, who worked as a geologist for an oil and gas company as a young man, defended fracking as governor – frustrating environmentalists in his political party, who called him “Frackenlooper.” He remains opposed to an outright ban of fracking but says he hopes to make it obsolete through a slow transition to renewable energy sources.

Public lands

The Great American Outdoors Act is a Gardner bill that became law in August after the Colorado senator persuaded Trump to support it. It provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been underfunded for decades, and addressed a $20 billion backlog of deferred maintenance in national parks. Gardner doesn’t support the CORE Act.

Hickenlooper supports the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act as well as the GAO Act. The CORE Act, which has passed the House but not the Senate, would affect 400,000 acres of Colorado by adding areas in the White River National Forest, prohibiting oil and gas drilling on 200,000 acres of the Thompson Divide, and designating land near Camp Hale a national historic landscape.


Gardner has cast votes both for and against legislation to help Dreamers — beneficiaries of an Obama-era program to protect undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children. He stands apart from the Senate Republican caucus in supporting the American Dream and Promise Act, House Democrats’ bill concerning Dreamers. Gardner has at various points both criticized and supported new funding for Trump’s border wall.

Hickenlooper opposed Trump’s effort to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and has been outspoken against the administration’s policy of separating parents and children at the border. He has called for comprehensive immigration reform, which has proven extremely elusive in Washington. As governor he signed multiple bills that afforded new rights and protection to undocumented immigrants, but under his watch the state also referred thousands of people for possible deportation.

Wages and benefits

Hickenlooper believes the federal minimum wage should be raised to at least $15 per hour. He says he’d support a bill to install a paid family and medical leave benefit nationwide.

Gardner opposes a federal minimum wage hike. He does not believe that the federal government should mandate a paid family and medical leave benefit for employees.


In recent years Colorado voters and journalists have rarely had access to Gardner, with no broadly publicized town halls in about three years.

Hickenlooper has signed a pledge to hold at least four halls per year if he is elected. As governor he was known for his accessibility, but he has turned down a number of Senate debates — particularly outside of Denver.

Reproductive health

Gardner says he is pro-life. He has supported expanding access to over-the-counter contraceptives. He has also supported “personhood” bills.

Hickenlooper supports keeping abortion legal. He often touts a state contraceptive initiative during his governorship that led to a dramatic reduction in teen pregnancy.

LGBTQ rights

During his first run for the U.S. Senate, Gardner said he had long believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but in a debate Friday, he said marriage equality is settled law following the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling.

As governor, Hickenlooper called a special session in 2012 in hopes of advancing a bill establishing civil unions in Colorado, which he eventually signed into law. He has said that if elected, he will support legislation to expand rights and protections for transgender people and to fight discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Coronavirus relief

Gardner voted for the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus that passed 96-0 in March, and has supported other relief bills since that time. Last month, Gardner voted for a slimmed-down relief bill that failed to pass the Senate.

Hickenlooper also supported the CARES Act but criticized a more recent Senate bill as insufficient considering the nation’s dire economic straits. He supports the HEROES Act, a roughly $3 trillion stimulus package passed by House Democrats in May.

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