Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper introduced himself to a national television audience Wednesday in an hour-long town hall broadcast on CNN. If nothing else, he proved to be a staunch advocate for the state he governed for eight years.
He repeatedly looked back at changes in areas like methane regulations, gun control and health care expansion while touting Colorado as a model for the nation.
Hickenlooper pointed out that U.S. News & World Report calls Colorado the nation’s best economy; he also spoke of bringing Denver metro mayors and officials together for the FasTracks infrastructure project, saying it was “the nation’s biggest.” Both, he said, were examples of his abilities to bring people together in order to get things done.
Looking quite at ease, Hickenlooper was never really put on the spot — all that was missing was a warm sweater and cozy fire. Both the audience questions as well as those from the moderator, CNN’s Dana Bash, led Hickenlooper into the talking points he’s used since he started hitting the road while pondering a presidential run. After numerous trips to Iowa, and stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina, three of the first states to host primaries and caucuses in 2020.
Hickenlooper formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination on March 4. Here are the key moments from the CNN town hall:
No National Death Penalty
This was an issue that was front and center during his governorship. Hickenlooper said if he were elected president in 2020 he would suspend the death penalty across the country.
“It makes no sense; it prolongs misery and it is random,” he said, pointing out that different sentencing laws in different states might determine whether someone receives the death penalty. “The random injustice of that is something this country should never stand for.”
Classic Hickenlooper, And Yes, He Told The Deep Throat Story
As has been the case out on the campaign trail, Hickenlooper maintained his folksy demeanor. Immediately after the town hall, one CNN commentator said Hickenlooper “came across as someone very likable.” While embracing some of his apparent foibles — the unusual last name, the self-described nerdiness — Hickenlooper also connected by pointing out that he suffers from a type of “face-blindness,” which sometimes makes it hard for him to immediately recognize people.
He also told a story from his memoir, “The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics.”
“I took my mother to an X-rated movie,” he said. “I had come home from college and she had made this huge dinner. I told her I had made plans to go to a movie with my friend and I asked her if she wanted to come along.
“I was 18 years old and had never been to an X-rated movie...We thought it would be a little naughty but didn’t think it was that bad...So I took my mother to see ‘Deep Throat.’”
Different Than President Donald Trump
Throughout the night, Hickenlooper was asked how his presidency would differ from current officeholder Donald Trump. When the topic of the recent shooting in New Zealand and right-wing extremism came up, Hickenlooper said Trump “should be ashamed” of his response. Later, answering a question about climate change, Hickenlooper mused “Lord knows it would be nice to have someone in the White House who actually understands science,” before expressing concern that climate change will disproportionately affect people of color as well as those from low-income communities.
Another Hickenlooper Classic: The Unplanned Comment
As governor, Hickenlooper sometimes drew criticism for off-the-cuff remarks, and the CNN town hall produced one of those moments. Bash asked the candidate if he would commit to choosing a woman as his running mate. Hickenlooper said, “Of course.” Then he added, “How come we’re not asking more often the women, ‘Would you be willing to put a man on the ticket?’“ Hickenlooper defended the comment afterwards to a CNN reporter, saying, “Too often media discounts the chance of a woman winning.”
In his final audience question, Hickenlooper was asked if he was concerned about possibly being branded as a socialist by conservatives and how he would go about trying to appeal to Trump voters who may want to back another candidate in 2020.
“I don’t like labels, they objectify and diminish people,” he said. “I understand that the middle class is shrinking, and just because corporations have record profits, it doesn’t mean the country is doing better. I understand millennials don’t hate the idea of buying a house and starting a family — they’re just buried in mountains of debt.
“I understand that Generation Xers shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of their parents and sending their kids off to college, while at the same time not having anything left for their own retirements. I think those are going to be some of the questions that those people who voted for Trump didn’t feel they were getting an answer from the Democratic Party...What we did in Colorado, we can do for the entire country.”
Hickenlooper will return to the campaign trail following his CNN appearance with a trip to New Hampshire.