Evoking the spirit of the American West and detailing his resume of work in Colorado, former Governor John Hickenlooper delivered a speech calling for unity in a time of exacerbated divisions Thursday evening in Denver’s Civic Center Park.
The former governor, at times almost yelling as he grew more animated, quoted the naturalist John Muir and the writer Wallace Stegner, who described the American West as the “home of hope.” A spokesperson estimated more than 4,000 people listened to him speak, standing between his former offices. With the State Capitol to the east and the City and County Building to the west, he announced again his intention to take office in the White House.
“Now, this isn’t about unity for unity’s sake,” Hickenlooper said. “America stops working when we work against each other. Our country stops making progress when we hunker down on opposite sides of continental divides – red versus blue; rich and poor; urban and rural.”
What he said afterward prompted the most raucous applause from the crowd.
“It’s time to end this American crisis of division,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s time to bring all Americans together. And that’s why I’m running to be President of the United States of America.”
He wants to focus on improving access to healthcare, building a green economy to address climate change, ending tax cuts for the wealthy, ensuring corporations pay their fair share, and pushing more social justice efforts benefiting historically disenfranchised minority groups.
By all accounts, it was a successful kick-off and send-off for Hickenlooper, who wants to be the first Democrat from the American West to be nominated to a presidential slot. He will need to beat out a crowded field of well-known figures to earn the party’s nomination.
In Thursday evening’s speech, he managed to — in very Hickenlooper fashion — sneak in a dad joke about his name recognition.
“I understand clearly that I’m not the first person in this race or the most well-known person in this race,” he said. “But let me tell you, at four syllables and 12 letters, ‘Hickenlooper’ is now the biggest name in the race.”
Hickenlooper was introduced by former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. Webb coined a new slogan for Hickenlooper on the spot, with supporters quickly turning it into a chant: “From the Wynkoop to the White House.” He said Washington today “is a toxic place.”
“John leads by his values, he stands up for what’s right,” Webb said. “He walks his values. He is his values. Americans will learn what I already know: John is the right person to beat Donald Trump.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also spoke about his work with Hickenlooper, whose own remarks were followed by a performance by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.
Supporters in attendance called Hickenlooper a “good man” with a “good personality.”
They filled the seats around the amphitheater and in a standing-room-only space in front of the stage.
On the eastern side of the amphitheater, Amanda Miller of Louisville sat with her two young children. The Louisiana native has been in Colorado for four years.
“We think that, from what we can tell, the former governor has, like, a good vibe,” Miller said. “He’s got a good personality. We think he could be a good person to lead the country.”
Far across from Miller in another sitting area was Darrell Bennett. The Baton Rouge resident was in Denver on vacation and hadn’t heard of Hickenlooper before this week, but he said he looked like a pretty strong economy.
Bennett learned about the event from TV and had decided to stop by. He plans on voting in next year’s primary and wants a candidate who focuses on healthcare, higher education and helping the middle class.
“I wanted to come hear what the candidate had to say, which direction he wants to move the country in,” Bennett said. “I’m excited.”
Emilio Romero of Denver said he’s known Hickenlooper since his days as the city’s mayor and as a local brewpub owner.
“He’s just a good man. He’s done some good things here in Denver and we’ve supported him since day one,” Romero said.
Also present were folks who weren’t exactly fans of Hickenlooper. They included demonstrators waving signs outside the gates and an airplane flying overhead, with a message alluding to the ethics investigation Hickenlooper currently faces.
Protesters chanted loudly throughout Hickenlooper’s and other people’s remarks, causing an audible echo while people on stage spoke.
So what’s next?
Now begins the real challenge: introducing Hickenlooper in places where he isn’t a household name and convincing them and Coloradans alike that his ideas will work. He will tour Iowa, whose caucuses are generally seen as a barometer for a candidate’s viability moving forward.
Hickenlooper is scheduled to appear in several events across the Hawkeye State on Friday and Saturday, marking his first official visit to the state since formally announcing his candidacy. His first stop? Confluence Brewery in Des Moines, the state’s capital, on Friday. He’s scheduled to visit cafes and house parties in Charles City, Dubuque, Clinton and Cedar Rapids.