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Top advisers leave Hickenlooper's struggling 2020 campaign

Hickenlooper is expected to lag well behind the Democratic National Committee's benchmark of 130,000 donors needed to qualify for the debate stage in September.

DENVER — Top members of former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's campaign are departing in a major shakeup as the brewpub owner-turned-politician tries to turn around his struggling presidential bid.

Campaign manager Brad Komar and national finance director Dan Sorenson have left the campaign. Spokeswoman Lauren Hitt confirmed their departures and said she, too, will exit the campaign in the coming weeks.

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The departures come after the close of the second quarter of campaign fundraising. Hickenlooper is expected to lag well behind the Democratic National Committee's benchmark of 130,000 donors needed to qualify for the debate stage in September — one of several candidates who could fail to meet that threshold.

"Well, we thought it was time to make a change. You know, these campaigns are long, hard campaigns, and you don't always get it right with the first team," Hickenlooper told MSNBC's Craig Melvin in an interview Tuesday. "I used to be in the restaurant business, and it's a little bit like putting a restaurant together. Sometimes you don't quite get the right team, at the right time."

He said it was a combination of staffers quitting and being let go.

Hickenlooper, who served two terms as governor of a Western swing state, has struggled to gain attention in the crowded Democratic field. He has touted moderate positions and repeatedly warned Democrats they risk being tagged as socialists by tacking too far to the left.

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But with several candidates, and many Democratic voters, embracing more liberal positions, Hickenlooper's message — or at least the messenger — has failed to resonate. He was roundly booed last month at the California Democratic Party convention when he condemned socialism.

Hickenlooper himself echoed that sentiment in the MSNBC spot, expressing he's struggled to promote his accomplishments in the crowded field, particularly in the recent debate.

"I’m not always the perfect spokesperson for my own ideas," he told Melvin. "The focus has always been to try and present a future. And in this case, it's 'here's what we did in Colorado, and here's how I can scale that up for the United States. That's a hard message. It's nuanced."

Hickenlooper's team projected optimism about the future, announcing that the candidate had hired a new campaign manager, M.E. Smith.

Smith ran Sen. Bob Casey's successful re-election campaign in Pennsylvania last year. She was Hickenlooper's deputy campaign manager in 2014, when Komar ran the governor's successful re-election effort amid a Republican wave.

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At least one of Hickenlooper's departing staffers was headed to a rival campaign. Sorenson, the finance director, will join former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's campaign, O'Rourke's team confirmed late Monday.

Sorenson's departure had been in the works for some time. He previously notified the campaign that he intended to leave but stayed on until the end of the second fundraising quarter, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person requested anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Politico reported that before leaving, Hickenlooper's senior team urged him to drop from the race and run against Sen. Cory Gardner (R) in 2020 instead.

Hickenlooper, though, has said he doesn't want to be in the Senate and isn't cut out for the job, not to mention that that race is also stuffed candidates already. Two of them, Michael Johnston and Dan Baer, announced opening fundraising totals of more than a million dollars.

In a previous interview with Next with Kyle Clark, Johnston, wouldn't say whether he'd leave the race if Hickenlooper wanted to jump in it.

"I don't know that. I'd certainly be willing to talk to him about it. John Hickenlooper and I are friends. I'm a big fan. And so I think he's got bigger things in store than this race. But if he called me to have that conversation then I'd certainly be willing to talk to him," he said.

In Next's interview with Alice Madden, who announced her run in May, indicated her feelings were similar to Johnston's. 

9NEWS contributed to this report.

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