Feb 13, 2023 - News

Mike Johnston running for major office for third time in five years

Mike Johnston campaigns for a ballot measure in September 2022. Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

Mike Johnston. Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

Mike Johnston is campaigning for his third major office in five years. This bid for Denver mayor, he argues, is different.

State of play: Johnston finished a distant and disappointing third in the 2018 Democratic primary for governor after serving eight years in the state Senate. His campaign for the U.S. Senate ended in September 2019 when then-Gov. John Hickenlooper entered the race.

What's new: Not much. The 48-year-old is much the same candidate as his prior bids: a leading fundraiser, a detail-oriented policy dreamer and a well-spoken orator.

Yes, but: This time, Johnston's entering as an executive and outsider, he told Axios in a recent interview, rather than as a former elected official.

  • His time as president and CEO for Gary Community Ventures, named for oil and gas leader Sam Gary, allowed him to work in the private and nonprofit sectors and gave him a fresh look, he believes.
  • Most importantly, his organization helped launch COVIDCheck Colorado to provide free testing and vaccines at community sites during the pandemic in collaboration with state leaders.

Of note: He also stayed close to elections. Since his last run for office, he campaigned for major ballot measures, seeing the passage of Proposition 123 for affordable housing in 2022 and universal preschool and the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment in 2020.

What he's saying: It's these new coalitions he built that he believes will put him over the edge this time and help him address issues like affordable housing and crime.

  • "The first challenge the city faces is the belief that these problems are unsolvable. And the closer I got [I realized] these are solvable problems," says Johnston, who left Gary Ventures in November.

The other side: His rivals are not letting him shake his political baggage so easily. In a recent debate, multiple candidates suggested Johnston and two other current state lawmakers are part of the status quo they say is failing the city.

What to watch: If he loses for the third time, it's not clear if Johnston would run again. He declined to answer the question directly.


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