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Politics

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper Announces 2020 Presidential Bid

John Hickenlooper
Jack Dempsey
/
U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
Then-Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017 opening ceremony in Denver, Colorado on Oct. 5, 2017.

Updated at 10:57 a.m.

Former two-term Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced his 2020 presidential bid in an online video on Monday, pitching himself as the centrist antidote to a dysfunctional, divided Washington.

He joins an already crowded field of Democratic contenders including senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders.

Standing on the top of a snow-capped mountain, Hickenlooper said the nation was in the midst of a crisis that "threatens everything we stand for."

"I've proven again and again I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver," he said.

Hickenlooper, who turned 67 earlier this month, entered politics in 2003. He wrapped up his career in Colorado in early January when he passed his gubernatorial baton to successor Jared Polis.

Born in suburban Philadelphia, he graduated from Wesleyan University and moved to Colorado in the early 1980s. He worked as a geologist in the oil and gas industry until getting laid off during an economic downturn.

After opening and operating a successful Denver brewpub, the Wynkoop, he ran for Denver mayor. He held that office from 2003 to 2011.

As Colorado's governor, he led the state through a number of tumultuous events: deadly wildfires, the Aurora theater shooting in 2012 and historic flooding in 2013. During that time he gained a reputation of cutting red tape and advocating for pro-business policies.

Political opponents criticized his handling of a high-profile death penalty case and inability to close the gap on the state's growing transportation infrastructure funding backlog.

He was on a short-list of vice presidential picks for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Ever since then, he's been positioning himself as an antidote to a polarized Washington.

In an interview on CNN last December, he called himself a "problem-solver" and capable of bringing people on opposite ends of the political spectrum together.

"Maybe the country needs someone who can bring the divided parts of the country and the divided constituencies back together," Hickenlooper said.

He's also leaning on Colorado's strong economy as a boon to his campaign. According to a promotional website launched near the end of his time as governor, he saw the state's job growth go from 40th to first in the nation.

Patricia Calhoun, editor of the Denver alt-weekly Westword, has been covering Hickenlooper ever since he opened one of Denver's first brewpubs in 1988. She said his message of bipartisanship has resonated with a lot of Coloradans over the past two decades.

"If he can get that 'We're all putting up a barn together,' 'We're all rowing in the raft' ethos of the West going it could really play well (in 2020)," she said.

But Calhoun said the big question is whether that will work nationally.

"You certainly will be looking to see if he's still the genuine John Hickenlooper," she said. "Is he changing his message to whatever seems to be going well right now in the polls? Or will he stick to his guns and kind of be that really interested-in-everything populist?"

Seth Masket, professor and director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, said Hickenlooper's across-the-aisle style might fall flat with a lot of Democrats.

"Some of the toughest sells he'll have are selling Democratic primary voters on the idea of compromise and bipartisanship as assets right now," he said.

In other words, Hickenlooper's bipartisan reputation as governor on issues around the energy industry and the environment might work against him.

"The fact that he's pretty comfortable with energy exploration where a lot of Democratic activists aren't right now — I think that could be a sticking point for him," he said.

Hickenlooper's campaign style has been pretty positive. One of his first campaign ads jokingly featured him riding a small moped through the streets of downtown Denver.

In his 2016 memoir, The Opposite of Woe, he talked about how he handled a particularly contentious part of his 2010 run for governor.

"Just as we had in my mayoral elections, our campaign stayed positive," Hickenlooper wrote in the book. "We ran what remains to this day remains one of my favorite campaign ads. In the 30-second spot, I got in and out of the shower several times, fully dressed. In the voiceover, I say 'Attack ads and dirty politics make me feel like I need to take a shower.'"

Unlike other presidential hopefuls, Hickenlooper hasn't brushed up with President Donald Trump.

Trump made no mention of his announcement on Twitter or otherwise Monday morning.

In an interview on Good Morning America on Monday, Hickenlooper said he's running because the country was experiencing the worst period of division "since the civil war."

"I think this is a crisis of division," he said. "It's keeping us from addressing big issues like climate change and the soaring cost of healthcare, disruption of the workplace coming from automation and artificial intelligence."

Hickenlooper has criticized Trump's business practices and former reality TV career several times, including during his speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

"I've never hosted a reality TV show," Hickenlooper said. "But I know that the true mark of a successful businessman is not the number of times you say 'You're fired!' but the number of times you say, 'You're hired!'"

"I'm the business guy," Hickenlooper went on to say. "But unlike Trump's businesses, my business didn't go bankrupt six times."

The announcement comes as an ethics investigation remains open into whether he broke state rules when he accepted free jet rides during his last year as governor.

Colorado's presidential primary elections take place in March 2020.