Election 2020 John Hickenlooper

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper listens to a question during a media availability at the National Press Club,  June 13, 2019, in Washington.

A public plea to former Gov. John Hickenlooper:

Eric Sondermann

Eric Sondermann

Odds are this encouragement, or, more aptly, discouragement, is for naught. So much wasted breath and wasted time. Reading your statement of withdrawal from the presidential sweepstakes, it is clear you are closing in on a U.S. Senate run. The die seems cast.

But let me chime in regardless.

As your distant presidential hopes withered, you’ve traveled quite some distance at high speed in first cracking the door to a Senate bid and then opening it wide.

As a friend and a sometimes collaborator during your mayoral days, let me start with four straight-forward, honest words of advice: Don’t do it, John.

For all of your considerable political skills, you’re not that good at masking your feelings. Time after time, you made clear your lack of interest in the Senate and your rather low regard for the place.

As you commented a couple of months ago on Denver’s flagship radio station, “If you look at the skillsets of what I’m good at, that’s very different than what happens in the Senate.”

In a different venue, “I’m not cut out to be a senator.”

To your credit, such quotes abound. Of course, you can try to spin such a dramatic shift with some rehearsed retort of, “that was then, this is now” or “a deep, introspective change of heart” or even “my country is calling.” A good number of voters may support you anyway, but no one is going to buy the explanation.

Your long-held assessment was not off the mark. In fact, it was refreshingly candid and on target. It’s just not that good a gig. I have no doubt that your friend and protégé, Sen. Michael Bennet, over a beer (or three) has shared his frustration and even dismay at the current state of the institution.

Maintaining our candor, the U.S. Senate is not suited to you. And you’re not all that suited to it.

You’re an entrepreneur and an executive. You thrive on making decisions and being in charge. The Senate could not be more alien to your skill set.

It’s a giant talk-a-thon, a constant burden of beg-a-thon fundraising, an endless parade of hearings largely for show, an ego and elbowing game with your colleagues for the nightly cable interview, and an intricate process of mark-ups and horse-trading as the legislative sausage gets made.

That’s not you; not even close. As governor you eschewed the legislative process. You deferred, sometimes to a fault, and waited for bills to hit your desk for an up-or-down decision. You were into the broad strokes, not the fine-tuning.

You’re a square peg, my friend, and the Senate is a round hole. It’s just not a fit.

So let’s talk politics. Many Democrats, nationally and locally, have seized on you as the savior, the 600-pound gorilla who can reclaim the Senate seat from the despised Cory Gardner and put a win in the blue column in the battle to retake the Senate majority.

Without in any way diminishing your political potency, I see it differently. In quick form, the Democratic field is solid with an abundance of talent; Gardner will be an underdog to almost any nominee the Democrats put forward; and there is no need for a savior.

From Mike Johnston to Dan Baer, John Walsh, Alice Madden, Trish Zornio, Andrew Romanoff, Angela Williams and others, what a robust, deep, quite youthful and promising group that portends good things for your Party.

After more than 16 years in the limelight and the corner office, why airdrop into this race for a post you time and again disparaged instead of letting the cream rise out of this talented corps?

You and I are of a similar age. Sometimes, difficult as it may be, the right thing to do is to clear the decks and let youth be served.

In the primary, while you would enter as the favorite, you would fly into many of the same hard-left headwinds that you know all too well from your just-concluded pursuit. Even if you fight back and prevail, it is not a sure bet and will not be a fun or pain-free process.

To the general election, it’s my take that Cory Gardner, political skills and disarming smile and all, has a steeply uphill climb against most any Democrat. It has less to do with him and is mostly a function of being a Republican senator in an increasingly blue state in an era of Donald Trump.

Gardner spends Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays cow-towing to the shrill Trump base and Tuesdays and Thursdays trying in vain to appeal to some version of the political center. It’s an untenable juggling act for someone who managed a 2014 victory of under two points in a big Republican year in a state less blue than now against a wounded Democratic incumbent, on the ropes and flailing.

In short, you might well win this race, but the Democratic Party is not dependent on you to do so.

Years ago, perhaps midway through your first mayoral term, I was quoted as saying that the key to your popularity could be found in one word – authenticity. I stand by that assessment and think it has remained the case.

(True story: Shortly after that quote appeared in one of the Denver papers, an aspiring candidate for statewide office took me to lunch to ask for my help in making him “authentic like Hick”. The irony of the ask was seemingly lost on him.)

Entering the Senate race would not be an “authentic” John Hickenlooper move. Rather, it would come across as opportunistic, climbing, and even a bit desperate. All for a job for which you are ill-suited and have repeatedly disdained.

The world is your oyster, John Hickenlooper. Opportunities abound. For a geologist and brewpub master who burst onto the political scene, it’s been a marvelous run. Now is the chance to expand your brand by showing it is possible to turn away from political temptation.  

Besides, what’s the real appeal to chumming around with Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham? For that matter, with Dick Durbin and Mazie Hirono? Life’s too short.

Don’t do it, John. The seat is likely to turn blue anyway. While you have other roles to play and your word to keep.

Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based political analyst and commentator. Reach him @EricSondermann.

(1) comment

Barnes-Gelt Susan

I agree with you Eric. Colorado has several younger, more engaged and serious Democrats, qualified to serve in the Senate. Not certain I agree with you assessment of Hickenlooper's accomplishments. He's adept at surrounding himself with talented people. Not so good at listening or leading.

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