They’re both business-friendly Democrats whose Colorado-based brands are built around bemoaning partisan bickering, but their styles couldn’t be more different.
Where Gov. John Hickenlooper’s middle name might as well be “quirky,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is anything but.
Hickenlooper, 66, a one-time geologist who helped spark Colorado’s brewpub revolution, speaks in a rushed jumble, like a bartender bantering with a customer.
Bennet, 54, a Yale-educated attorney who managed investments for a while for billionaire Phil Anschutz, speaks in well-structured paragraphs that sound like they come with their own footnotes. (Anschutz owns Colorado Politics through his Clarity Media Group.)
Their political careers have run in tandem from the start.
Hickenlooper hired Bennet, a fellow alumnus of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where each got his undergraduate degree — Hickenlooper in English and Bennet in history — to be his chief of staff after the beer pioneer was elected mayor of Denver in 2003.
They both won election in 2010 to the top statewide offices they still hold, defeating Tea Party Republicans during a GOP wave year, though Bennet had been appointed to the Senate seat to fill a vacancy a year earlier. Hickenlooper won a second term in 2014, and Bennet won his second full term in 2016.
They’ve also both landed on national-ticket short lists compiled by top Democrats. Hickenlooper was famously a finalist to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 (the nod went to Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine). And shortly after the 2016 election, then-President Barack Obama included Bennet among a handful of “gifted Democratic politicians,” also including Kaine; California Sen. Kamala Harris; and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
And as the 2020 presidential election kicks into gear, both Hickenlooper and Bennet are languishing back in the pack in the single digits among a sprawling field of potential Democratic candidates in the few public polls that have included them.
Neither Hickenlooper nor Bennet is an official presidential candidate yet, despite the couple of times Hickenlooper has “misspoken” and said he’s running.
A couple of months ago, the political data gurus at the FiveThirtyEight.com blog, however, pegged Hickenlooper as one of 20 Democrats “basically running right now,” according to a list of criteria that includes visits to early primary states, whether they’ve released a book lately, and whether they’ve been profiled recently in a major magazine. (Politico and The Atlantic have both featured stories on a potential “unconventional” Hickenlooper candidacy.)
Hickenlooper has been more assertive about a run in other ways, assembling a cadre of old campaign hands and launching a federal leadership PAC — dubbed Giddy Up PAC, it’s a reference to a favorite Hickenlooper pun that also makes an appearance in the title of his memoir, “The Opposite of Woe.”
Using the same metric — and taking him at his word — Bennet is further from launching a full-fledged campaign. At this point, he’s testing the waters, along with another dozen or more Democrats who would kick themselves years from now if they hadn’t dipped their toes in the party’s most wide-open presidential pool in memory.
Still, the two were basically tied in the first national poll for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to include both Hickenlooper and Bennet.
According to a national Fox News poll of registered voters conducted Dec. 9-11, 9 percent of respondents think Hickenlooper would make an excellent or good president, and 9 percent of respondents think Bennet would be an excellent or good president.
The poll found that Bennet is slightly better known than Hickenlooper, with 46 percent of respondents saying they’ve never heard of the senator, compared with 48 percent who’ve never heard of the governor.
As in other polls, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders topped the list of Democrats — there were 16 listed on this survey — with 47 percent of respondents saying they thought Biden would make an excellent or good president and 40 percent saying the same for Sanders.
Only 4 percent had never heard of Sanders, while 6 percent didn’t know anything about Biden. (The poll, jointly conducted by Democratic firm Anderson Robbins Research and Republican firm Shaw & Company Research, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.)
Last weekend’s CNN/Des Moines Register Iowa caucus poll, conducted Dec. 10-13, didn’t include Bennet among Democratic presidential prospects but found Hickenlooper with numbers similar to those in the Fox News poll.
Twenty-four percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa say they have favorable feelings toward Hickenlooper, while 9 percent say they don’t like the guy, and 67 percent don’t have an opinion.
Hickenlooper ranks back in the pack, behind 14 other Democrats who scored higher favorability ratings — including Biden and Sanders, who led the field, with 82 percent and 74 percent, respectively — and ahead of seven others who were even less well known.
A local Democratic operative found a silver lining in the CNN/Des Moines Register poll, tweeting that Hickenlooper had at least ranked higher than the other governors in the survey, Washington’s Jay Inslee and Montana’s Steve Bullock. (Where Hickenlooper was the first choice of 1 percent of voters and the second choice of another 1 percent, Inslee was just the second choice of 1 percent, and Bullock didn’t register in either column.)
The Des Moines Register’s poll was met with a hail of criticism that pointed out it’s more than a year until the Iowa caucuses and the field isn’t close to complete.
But media organizations and academic institutions have been asking the public about presidential prospects well ahead of the next election for decades. Take the results with the usual grains of salt.
None of the polls taken at the same point in the 2016 presidential election cycle, for instance, even included President Donald Trump as an option — it would be six more month before he rode the Trump Tower escalator into what quickly became his unchallenged front-runner status.
Most of the GOP presidential preference polls conducted during 2014 showed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush trading the lead in a burgeoning field with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, though a few polls found Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul ahead, and previous presidential nominee Mitt Romney topped some surveys for a while.