By my count, John Hickenlooper is now the thirteenth or fourteenth Democrat to formally throw his or hat in the ring for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020.
I say thirteenth or fourteenth because I’m not sure how to count Bernie Sanders. Technically, he’s an Independent, not a Democrat, although he caucuses with the Dems in the Senate. And while his socialist ideology comports nicely with what the Democrats have become these days, Bernie is shrewd enough not to run as the candidate of the Socialist Party USA, the official party of democratic socialists. (The Socialist Workers Party is a self described communist party in the U.S.) As Ralph Nader, Ross Perrot, Gary Johnson, Norman Thomas, Teddy Roosevelt (in 1912) and many others throughout our history have learned, running as an independent or minor party candidate in this country is a lost cause. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, considering an independent candidacy himself, may discover that, too.
I like Hick, and even though I’m a loyal Republican we’ve long had a friendly relationship. I voted for him in his Denver Mayoral races, a place where a Republican simply can’t win, and thought he was a good governor.
Earlier, I’ve compared him to James Stewart’s portrayal of Jefferson Smith in the classic 1939 Frank Capra movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The fictitious Mr. Smith wasn’t a politician at all. He was head of the Boy Rangers, an unassuming, down-to-earth fella from a small western state who was appointed to an open Senate seat by the governor, who thought his wholesome, honest, outsider image would appeal to the people (and for other politically cynical, self-serving motives of the governor).
Of course, this isn’t Hick’s background or history. Hick has been a geologist, an entrepreneur and a successful politician. I’m comparing him to Jimmy Stewart as a matter of style and persona as perceived by voters.
A few years ago, before the radically-leftward lurch of the Democratic Party, it seemed there might be a political niche for someone like Hick as a presidential candidate: a fairly moderate (by Democrat standards), affable, everyman who had governed successfully in Colorado, when it was a purple swing state. I’m not sure that niche is still there. The question, now, is whether Hick can prevail in the Democrats’ nominating process at a time when socialism is all the rage after activists, “feeling the Bern,” came close to defeating Hillary Clinton’s nomination. Moreover, after Hillary’s defeat to Donald Trump flabbergasted and enraged the Democrats’ powerful, liberal feminist base, they may have no interest in a white male as their nominee.
Bernie, Liz, Kamala, Corey and the rest of the progressive posse ─ egged on by “AOC,” their frivolous millennial media celebrity ─ are piling one new giveaway program on top of another to seduce government-dependent voters at, of course, someone else’s expense. On the stump and during the primaries and corresponding candidate debates could Hick campaign as the voice of reason and moderation or will he be pulled leftward by his socialist rivals? Even if he doesn’t reinvent himself as a radical progressive, it won’t matter if Democrat primary voters are hell-bent on unlimited government largesse.
Regarding another Democrat presidential wannabe from Colorado, Michael Bennet, there doesn’t seem to be much of a political market for him. Unlike Hick, Bennet comes across as more of a calculating, slick politician, presenting himself differently and conveniently to Democrat audiences than he does to Republicans. To voters back home, Bennet often brags about his achievements working across the aisle to pass legislation. In fact, none of those acts were on national issues of much consequence. On those issues, he’s routinely followed the liberal Democrat party line.
His recent attack on Ted Cruz on the Senate floor during the government shutdown, literally shouting at Cruz, looked like a transparently-contrived theatrical performance, fully out of character for the normally bland Bennet. It gave every appearance of being a planned attention-getter and springboard for his entry into the presidential race.
Although Bennet voted in favor of a border wall with Mexico in 2013 while Obama was president. With Trump as president, Bennet now says such a wall is “inefficient” and “wasteful,” which is a clever political calculation. Saying otherwise would be a disqualifier for a Democrat seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. We’ll see how Hick handles this issue on the campaign trail.
We’re in store for quite a circus.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.