Hickenlooper forms leadership PAC for potential presidential run


Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is creating a political action committee, putting him a giant step closer to jumping into the race for president in 2020, Colorado Politics confirmed Monday.

But the governor also extended his timetable for deciding whether to enter the race, saying he now plans to wait until after he leaves office in January.

The leadership PAC is called Giddy Up, and it is allowed to raise money and other campaign resources to help Hickenlooper travel to raise his profile and do other things candidates do.

A source close to the effort said Hickenlooper will head south to campaign for fellow Democrats in tough gubernatorial races, including Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida.

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A leadership PAC is typically an organization formed by a political leader to raise and distribute campaign funds. PACs can generally accept up to $5,000 per year from individual donors or other political action committees.

Ahead of the 2016 election, several politicians created leadership PACs before formally announcing their candidacy for president.

Forming a leadership PAC is dipping a toe in the race, not a full-fledged announcement of candidacy, a Hickenlooper confidante told Colorado Politics.

WATCH: A video report below from KOAA-5.

The governor has frequently said that he was making up his mind about whether to seek the White House. He said Aug. 24 at an event in Denver staged by news outlet Axios that he was talking with friends about the possibility.

Earlier Hickenlooper said he would be deciding his options this summer. But in an interview Monday with Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner, he said he probably would not make up his mind until two or three months after leaving office.

“Once you do it, it’s full-time, seven days a week, 70-80 hours a week for, quite possibly, two years,” Hickenlooper told CPR. “I think when you make that kind of commitment, you had better have thought of all the ramifications, not just for myself, but for my family — for my wife, for my son.”

Several recent assessments by national media of top Democratic contenders for president in 2020 have paid scant attention to Hickenlooper if they mentioned him at all, suggesting he may have significant work to do to raise his national profile should he want to become a serious contender.

If he formally joins the race, Hickenlooper would bring a moderate voice to a what’s expected to be a crowded Democratic field running hard to the left in reaction to President Trump’s hard-right policies.

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Hickenlooper, a former petroleum company geologist turned brew-pub pioneer in Colorado, has helped defend existing state regulations on oil and gas companies, to the dismay of his party’s environmental wing.

In 2013, he repudiated more liberal members of his party who sought to use their control of the House, Senate and governor’s office to repeal the state’s death penalty.

Hickenlooper has avoided harsh rhetoric on immigration issues and Denver’s alleged status as a “sanctuary city” safe haven for undocumented residents. His successor as Denver mayor, Michael Hancock, has embraced a tougher, high-profile stance against GOP-led immigration crackdowns involving city resources.

Hickenlooper has defined his two terms as governor by rebuilding the state’s economy after the recession and working with companies such as LinkedIn and Microsoft on jobs and education programs.

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But on his watch as governor, Hickenlooper signed into law measures imposing gun restrictions and recognizing civil unions, the latter before the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages. He has also been a steady hand in crises, leading the state during mass shootings, deadly wildfires, a historic flood and the assassination of his prisons chief. He made bold promises to wipe out homelessness in Colorado that haven’t been fufilled.

Last year and again this year, Hickenlooper and John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio and a former presidential candidate, pushed for a bipartisan health care plan aimed at shoring up Obamacare for the states.

He spoke about his presidential ambitions with Colorado TV talker Aaron Harber in July, saying he thought it would be fun to run for president.

Hickenlooper was a close ally of former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. At one point Hickenlooper was said to be under consideration to be Clinton’s running mate or a potential Cabinet member.

As early as April, when Hickenlooker spoke with former Obama strategist David Axelrod on his podcast “The Axe Files” for The University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN, Hickenlooper seemed to signal that he would bide his time before taking steps toward a presidential run.

The moment I start a PAC and start talking about what I’m going to do in 2020 not only do I get distracted, but my Cabinet gets distracted and it’s a disadvantage. I’ve attracted, I think, the most talented team of people I’ve ever worked with, and we’re taking on what I think are the most important issues the state can deal with. I think it’s more important to focus on that and finish strong.

Colorado Politics was the first to report that Hickenlooper has retained some of his existing staff beyond January, when his second term will end. Term limits prevented Hickenlooper for running for re-election this year.

Even if he were to fall short in a race for the White House, their could be other rewards for Hickenlooper.

Over the years, unsuccessful candidates for president often have wound up with consolation prizes. Joe Biden became vice president after falling short in the 2008 presidential race. Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton and Rick Perry are among recent examples of presidential contenders who later landed Cabinet posts.

There has also been talk of Hickenlooper challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020 rather than seek national office.

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The Giddy Up PAC is what’s called a “hard PAC,” meaning Hickenlooper will retain direct control over it and have the authority to control its messaging. Hickenlooper has famously eschewed negative campaigning in his two terms as governor and two terms as Denver’s mayor.

Brad Komar, Hickenlooper’s campaign manager in 2014 who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, will lead the governor’s PAC. Komar was the campaign manager for Ralph Northam’s win over Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race last November.

The PAC’s board will include Stephanie Donner, the governor’s former legal counsel; former state Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio, who lost a bid to be vice chair of the Democratic National Committee this year; and cybersecurity executive Mark Turnage, a well-regarded Democratic politico.

Hickenlooper used the phrase “giddy up” to conclude his final State of the State address to the legislature in January, saying: “One last time from this podium: Giddy up!”

This story was updated Sept. 18 to include Hickenlooper’s comments to CPR.


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