Peter Blake

If Hickenlooper runs for president, he won’t do it the Jimmy Carter way

To many Coloradans, the governor is like a son away at college. The only time he writes is when he needs money.

Which John Hickenlooper does, even though he’s still 17 months from re-election. It’s never too early to start raising cash.

In a recent mass e-mail headlined “Unsung Victories,” the governor listed several achievements produced by lawmakers “in the salt mines,” including school finance reform (which depends upon a $1 billion tax vote in November), the annual state budget (required by the constitution), the “advanced industries acceleration act” (a state subsidy program for favored businesses) and a child abuse reporting hotline.

“I want to continue being part of this progress by continuing to be your governor,” he concludes. “Will you help out by chipping in $250, $100 or $50 to my re-election campaign?”

The letter includes a profile photo of the candidate, head up, gazing optimistically into the future against a horizon of snow-capped peaks.

It was sent May 23, the day after he had decided to put the life of mass murderer Nathan Dunlap on indefinite hold. But that decision, which upset many on both sides of the death penalty debate, wasn’t among the unsung victories he mentioned.

Photo from recent Hickenlooper campaign solicitation

So far, the campaign is without a manager and is being run out of the state Democratic Party headquarters. But Mike Melanson’s OnSight Public Affairs team is advising the staffers.

Melanson managed Hickenlooper’s 2010 campaign under the eye of chairman Alan Salazar, now Hickenlooper’s chief strategy officer. In 2008 Melanson managed Mark Udall’s successful Senate campaign, also with Salazar as chairman.

Since both Hickenlooper and Udall are up for re-election next year, Melanson and Salazar will have to choose which one to help, if either. On the other hand, if the Republicans can’t come up with strong candidates for either race, maybe the pair can handle both Democratic campaigns.

Neither Melanson nor Salazar returned calls for comment.

Apparently Hickenlooper is not so beguiled by the recent New Yorker profile about him that he’s going to pull a Jimmy Carter. That is, leave the governor’s office after a single term and spend the next two years campaigning full-time for the presidency. After his term ended in early 1975, Carter toured the country holding news conferences with mystified local reporters (“Who is this peanut farmer who thinks one term as governor of Georgia can propel him to the White House?”). His tour included a stop in Denver. A few days later, he wrote thank-you notes to the reporters who covered his press conference, an aide having collected their names and addresses. We knew then he was serious. But at least one of those reporters (no names mentioned here) didn’t even bother to save a signed personal note from a future president.

It’s an old political axiom that when your re-election is in trouble, run for a higher office. And if the opposition were stronger, Hickenlooper might be in trouble. But though he looks vulnerable thanks to gun laws, election laws and Dunlap (with a few more controversial vetoes or signatures to come) there don’t seem to be any Republicans with fewer negatives than he has. So there’s no reason not to run for the presidency while still in office. Colorado is a weak-governor state and there won’t be much to keep him from campaigning nationwide starting in 2015, if he chooses to do it.

icon_op_edThe New Yorker subhead said, “Colorado’s governor finds himself leading his state to the left.” In fact he’s not so much leading as being led to the left by the committed ideologues who occupy all the legislative leadership positions. It would be just as easy picturing Hickenlooper being dragged to the right by Republicans if they controlled the legislature.

Even if Hickenlooper isn’t “leading” his state to the left, it’s good to look like a liberal if you want to win the national Democratic nomination.

Former Gov. Dick Lamm got started in politics fighting anti-abortion laws and the Winter Olympics — big, tough issues. The non-ideological Hickenlooper’s first campaign was to keep “Mile High” in the Denver Broncos’ stadium name. But there are many paths to the governor’s mansion and even the White House.

He won’t be the only Democratic governor seeking the White House now that Hillary Clinton’s prospects have dimmed in the wake of the Benghazi attack. One of them is New York’s more openly ambitious Andrew Cuomo. They present an interesting contrast in several ways.

For instance, the Catholic Cuomo lives with his girlfriend, television foodie Sandra Lee, in a relationship that a Vatican consultant called “public concubinage.” Meanwhile Hickenlooper has a wife but is not living with her, having agreed to separate. Since he’s not a Catholic, the Vatican hasn’t accused him of “solo marriage.” Wife Helen Thorpe did say before the separation she’d stay with him if he ran for president. Some first ladyships are worth more than others, apparently.

Could a presidential campaign save a marriage? Do voters even care about marital status anymore?

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for Contact him at You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and


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