If you believe the rumor making the rounds then Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper will run as an independent candidate in Colorado’s next gubernatorial election. While it’s highly unlikely, and mostly a product of both a lack of enthusiasm for Bill Ritter and Republican hopes for a divided Democratic Party, there are good reasons why Colorado could be ready for an independent candidate such as Hickenlooper.
• Colorado’s electorate is mostly in the middle. Voter registration and polling show that a plurality of Colorado voters identify as independents and hold centrist opinions on most fiscal and social issues.
• Hickenlooper presents himself as a post-partisan politician. Again, a plurality of the public prefers politicians who offer themselves as non-partisan pragmatics.
• Hickenlooper and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are examples of politicians who have won elections and reelections, but would have difficulty winning their respective party nominations. Although Hickenlooper is a social liberal, he is insufficiently supportive of organized labor’s agenda, somewhat fiscally conservative and not highly identified with minority patronage and politics.
• An independent governor might be a policy and political success. The Democratic Party’s domination of Colorado state government may push the state into the failed California model of higher taxes, higher spending, special interest dominance and regulatory overload, creating an opportunity for a center-left, but non-partisan politician. With some Democratic ties, he could provide a brake on the Democratic agenda while finding some center-right Republicans willing to negotiate. What Colorado voters like is a solution-oriented, centrist approach to government.
• It is not clear Hickenlooper could find the votes to win. He would mostly take votes from Ritter in the metro area and North Front Range. If the Republicans nominate a credible politician who conducts an effective campaign, a big if, he or she could assemble a strong non-metro vote and win.