Unless you’re a Republican, there’s an urge to pull for the home team in next year’s presidential election. The Democratic field is packed like beans in chili, but Colorado has two in the mix, former Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet.
It’s way too early to get your hopes up. Both men -- both adult transplants to our state, like many of us -- don’t fit the mold of those who become national party nominees.
And to get there, Hickenlooper and Bennet might have to become candidates Coloradans don’t recognize anymore. They're both deal-makers prone to getting along with Republicans, which would make it pretty hard to survive a Democratic primary these days.
“To have any chance at winning a national race, Hickenlooper will have to swing far to the left of anything Colorado voters would recognize,” said Michael Fields, a Republican political operative and executive director of the conservative advocacy group Colorado Rising Action, on the day the former governor held a Denver rally to kick off his White House run.
“And the more national Democrats learn about his record, the less they’ll be inclined to vote for him. He’s trying to thread a very small needle.”
Democrats seem to be far left of both Hickenlooper and Bennet. Hickenlooper was viewed by those on the left flank of his party in Colorado as a bit too chummy with oil and gas, an allegation that would be replayed ad nauseam if his campaign gets traction. Polling doesn’t yet show either Coloradan making a dent in the race.
Bennet was a member of Gang of 8, the bipartisan group of senators who forged a comprehensive agreement on immigration reform in 2013. The Republican majority in the House bottled it up, and six years later the bitter fight goes on.
Elections are a function of moment, momentum and mood. Donald Trump proved that in 2016. After the first term of Trump, Democrats are in a mood to counterpunch hard on many issues with energy and immigration at the top of the list.
Blessed are the peacemakers, but they’re not likely to collect momentum from their party’s current mood.
"There are some very angry people who have watched the events of the last 10 years and watched Donald Trump and their attitude is 'hell no,” David Axelrod, an adviser to President Obama, said in an Associated Press article this month. "And their voices are very loud.”
Nic Garcia of The Denver Post wrote a couple of weeks ago about how no one should underestimate Hickenlooper. He noted, correctly, that people discounted the LoDo brew pub operator when he ran for Denver mayor in 2003.
I worked for the Post then and helped cover that race. I watched the city’s native son Don Mares get up on the back of a flatbed trailer and sing a perfect rendition of Paul Simon's “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” at a sunset rally in Sloans Lake park before the mayoral runoff. Handsome and polished, Mares energized the crowd when he spoke.
I thought there was no way awkward and humble Hick could beat such a natural talent. A week or so later, he collected 64 percent of the votes to win his first public office.
That was Hick’s shining moment, as he kind of fell into the governor’s seat when the Republicans' bench of candidates fell apart in 2010. The GOP nominee, Dan Maes, got just 11.1 percent of the votes that year.
In 2003, Hickenlooper’s witty ads, quirky personality and LoDo street cred made him the trendy choice, the Beto O’Rourke of the campaign season.
This season has its own Beto, if not on top the ticket then certainly a good choice for running mate.
Ultimately, that's where Hickenlooper and Bennet might land. Their raised profiles in the presidential race will help.
Hickenlooper was said to be a prime choice to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate three years ago. Then she picked Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Depending on who the Democratic nominee turns out to be, Hickenlooper might be the moderate, capitalist No. 2 that a leftist candidate might need to win that November. That’s assuming Hickenlooper doesn’t muddy up his moderate past in angling for the presidency.
Hickenlooper also could wind up a cabinet secretary, likely, of the Interior, or, maybe, Commerce; workforce development is a high priority on Hick’s national agenda.
Bennet has been making the rounds for president, himself, though he hasn't yet made it official. Ultimately, however, I expect him to drop out, support the party’s best-chance candidate, then put himself in line to be secretary of Education.
After four years of that, I would expect him to lead an Eastern university. That’s familiar. His late father, Douglas J. Bennet Jr., served the Clinton and Carter administrations before becoming president of Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
What I'm saying is, I wouldn’t start thinking about sites for a presidential library in City Park just yet.
Wouldn’t it be something to have a Coloradan in the White House, though? Like the outrage over who kneels for the national anthem, our president might take offense to those who don’t get a peaceful, faraway look in their eyes when they hear the opening chords of “Rocky Mountain High.”