No one really knows what’s next for Gov. John Hickenlooper, save maybe himself. What we do know is Hick’s been dropping hints like turtle shells in Mario Kart and providing mostly vague answers about what he’s considering.
He revved up the speculation engine on June 22 during an interview with Kaiser Health News. Interviewed for the What the Health podcast recorded in Aspen, Hickenlooper was asked directly if he intends to run for president. He said he thinks it’s a tremendous compliment when he’s asked about a possible run.
“I take it very seriously,” Hickenlooper said in the interview. “My wife and I have been talking about it for a couple months and talking to old friends whose opinion we respect and trust. We’re going to try and sort through it this summer. But we are very focused, 210 days left in this term and we want to finish strong and healthcare is a big part of what we’re pushing.”
There’s also been some chatter about a potential U.S. Senate run. So could we expect an answer after summer ends?
“He’s not going to say anything about it while he’s still governor,” University of Denver professor Seth Masket said about Hickenlooper declaring a presidential run. “I think we’ll know for sure roughly a year from now.”
If he does, he could be in a good position. Masket said Hickenlooper is a viable White House candidate: “His name gets brought up along in national Democratic conversations, simply because he’s obviously the governor of a swing state… he won in two pretty Republican years in a moderate state.”
“I don’t know if anyone sees him as one of the top 3,” Masket added. “It’s definitely part of the national conversation. People are taking him pretty serious.”
Democratic analyst and consultant Steve Welchert said he believes Hickenlooper will end up running for president.
“If I was a betting man in Vegas, that’s where I would put my money,” Welchert said. “That’s what he really wants to do.”
Ironically, a big reason why he was elected in Colorado could end up being an issue on the national stage. His perception as moderate might not fly in this new political ecosystem for a party that might want a candidate who’s more interested in fighting rather than sparring.
‘The party’s presidential field has moved considerably to the left. They’ve moved more than he has,” Masket said. “Now, if you end up with 20 pretty liberal candidates in the race and Hickenlooper in the center, that probably helps him out.”
Former Colorado Republican party chairman Dick Wadhams said Hickenlooper checks some boxes. He’s won a statewide race twice, he has high approval ratings and the ability to raise money.
But he could face some obstacles early for his past support on the oil and gas industry.
“I just can’t believe it, that anti-fracking would ever touch him,” Wadhams said. “(They) would actively work to destroy him … it’s a religion on the left to oppose energy and gas development.”
Masket also points out that Hickenlooper, “remains much more comfortable,” with oil, gas and fracking development than a lot of other Democratic activists or candidates.
Like he did in Colorado, Hickenlooper could be the more left-of-center option for a party Wadhams said is starting to sprout some far-left presidential candidates, which he said include U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
Hick could get a boost from Democrats who see him as the most electable person, as someone who could end up pulling moderate votes away from President Trump. But again, that could be tough for a party that might be interested in a candidate who completely counters Trump on the political spectrum. Masket said this is the candidate who would seek to roll back or dismantle ICE, change immigration policy and seek to challenge most of Trump’s policy.
Compare Hick to other Democrats also rumored to be contemplating runs, like U.S. Sens Elizabeth Warren and Booker. Those candidates skew more toward the left and are known for having a much more confrontational style than Hick.
If Hickenlooper announces a run for U.S. Senate, Masket said he thinks most other Democrats would bow out.
“He would immediately look like a pretty strong candidate for it,” Masket said. Democrats would want a strong candidate to face, as Masket put it, the Republican “golden boy” in U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.
That’s not to say that seat would be his for the taking. Masket said people probably wanted to wait and see how the governor’s race ended up before the Congressional candidate pool was decided. Both Mike Johnston and Cary Kennedy were unsuccessful, but Masket said they did a good job of raising their profiles, so a run for the Senate (or the House?) doesn’t seem totally impossible.
Welchert said he’s heard Hickenlooper has told people he’s too old (Hickenlooper is 66) to be a freshman senator. (U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett serves as the senior senator.) Although, Welchert points out, Mitt Romney is poised to be a freshman U.S. senator at the tender age of 71 next door in Utah. Welchert, who ran U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s bid for governor, said he’s another person who could be interested in the Senate seat.
“I think he’s got all kinds of time to think about this and figure out what to do next,” Welchert said.
Welchert said the last former Colorado governor to run for U.S. Senate was Gov. Dick Lamm, who ran in 1992. Lamm lost to eventual U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell in the party’s primary. Before he was governor, Roy Romer also unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 1966.
Wadhams sees a scenario where Hickenlooper can end up as the party’s senatorial candidate, but it wouldn’t be handed to him. He said Hickenlooper would likely face a primary challenge, with Wadhams name-dropping some young stars he thinks could end up running for the nomination, including Johnston, Kennedy and outgoing Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran.
The idea of an eventual match-up between Gardner and Hickenlooper would be a “clash of the Titans,” Wadhams said. “I think Cory would win.”
“I think he’s going to do one or the other,” he said of Hickenlooper. “He’s not going to ride into the sunset and start making beer again.”
There might another way to figure out what Hickenlooper’s plan will be: Wait and see where he ends up in August.
“If he goes to the Iowa State Fair in August, that’ll give you a pretty good idea of what he’s thinking about,” Welchert said.