As Hickenlooper Eyes The White House, Staffers Hope Fortune Favors The Prepared

Listen Now
4min 49sec
<p>Matthew Putney/For CPR News</p>
<p>Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper smiles as he waits to speak at the Story County Democrats Soup Supper Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, in Ames, Iowa.</p>
Photo: Hickenlooper Iowa Story County 1 | Close Up Smiles - MP
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper smiles as he waits to speak at the Story County Democrats Soup Supper Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, in Ames, Iowa.

With 12 Democrats already officially running for president, and at least a half dozen others considering it, John Hickenlooper’s road to the White House in 2020 may seem as gnarled as the fingers of an old crone who offers to read the future.

Colorado's former governor has, nonetheless, charged into the fray, with an ambitious schedule and plans that he hopes will lead to good fortune — as in the Democratic nomination — smiling down upon him.

Since last fall, Hickenlooper has made three trips to Iowa, a crucial state in the nomination process; he's also touched down in New Hampshire and South Carolina, both early primary stops. And, in an attempt to dismiss the commonly-held idea that a governor lacks in foreign policy experience, Hickenlooper recently spoke at a security conference in Germany to better establish bona fides.

Our global leadership has weakened under this president. Currently at the #munichsecurityconference discussing global trade, the Trans-Atlantic alliance, cyber-security, NATO and more. A strong foreign policy is crucial to our success. We must show up and listen. We must lead.

In addition, whenever Hickenlooper makes his formal announcement that he's in for the White House — expected to come sometime in early March — a team of specialized staff, state directors, financial directors and pollsters are said to be at the ready.

There are also donors willing to write checks to back the effort. The Associated Press reported that Hickenlooper's leadership PAC, Giddy Up, has raised $1 million. In addition, it said he recently gained another $50,000 from a private dinner in San Francisco.

"He's really a national rolodex of donors since he hosted the DNC (Democratic National Committee) in Denver in 2008," said Brad Komar, who heads the Giddy Up PAC. "And in two very challenging years for Democrats, 2010 and 2014, and in two gubernatorial elections, he's only built on that."

There's also a personal side to the equation.

To ensure the 67-year-old Hickenlooper is at his best, whether it's an Iowan meet-and-greet, or courting donors in New York or San Francisco, his staffers try to follow a set of guidelines that can be a as simple as a glass of water at the ready whenever he's making a public appearance to (ideally) making sure he's gotten a good night's rest before he speaks.

"He's got a lot of energy and he's truly an extrovert," said Pat Meyers, who served as Hickenlooper's chief of staff in his final 18 months as governor and is now an advisor. "But the pace that we kept up in office, and the pace he's kept up since leaving, if you're not careful to take care of yourself that can wear yourself down and that in term can reduce your energy level and can make it more difficult to be crisp on giving answers and whatnot.

His staff recognizes that "it's kind of a brutal schedule” and Meyers said they’re “careful not to overload when we're scheduling him."

Photo: Hickenlooper Iowa Story County 2 | Hickenlooper Crowd - MP
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper mingles with the crowd at the Story County Democrats Soup Supper Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, in Ames, Iowa.

As Hickenlooper tries to establish himself, both nationally and internationally, he has to reckon with a challenger close to home. Sen. Michael Bennet, who served as superintendent of Denver Public Schools while Hickenlooper was Denver mayor, spent three days in Iowa last week as he ponders his own presidential ambitions.

"The stakes are really high; the highest they've been in my lifetime, and it's an unusual position to be in, to have the chance to run for that job, and be able to make a contribution to the debate," Bennet said after he spoke at a house party in rural Iowa.

The Democratic senator said he'll make a final decision in the near future.

At this point, neither he nor Hickenlooper rank very high in terms of name recognition. The latest cover of Time Magazine features an illustration of more than a dozen potential Democratic candidates peering into the Oval Office behind President Donald Trump — but neither Bennet or Hickenlooper are included. While Bennet had a viral moment when he lambasted Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the Senate floor during the recent partial government shutdown — neither Bennet or Hickenlooper are said to rate very high on the "Wow" factor.

TIME’s new cover: The biggest field yet. No frontrunner. A divided base. Welcome to the 2020 Democratic primary

And while it's not quite the same as two actors from the same movie vying for an Oscar, it's possible that their shared geography may make it difficult for voters to distinguish one from the other.

Rick Palacio, a former Democratic Party chair in Colorado, and an executive with Giddy Up, disagrees.

"Both Sen. Bennet and Gov. Hickenlooper have great stories to tell. Colorado is very different from what you see going on in the country right now; we have a great record of progressive success," he said. "We've been able to accomplish a lot as a state and I think both John and Michael have been a part of that success, and I think both of those voices will be an important part of this conversation as we look to determine who should be our Democratic nominee."