After months of testing the water, John Hickenlooper gets a debut on CNN’s town hall. But, he faces formidable challenges to achieve a sustainable campaign. A myriad of new competitors are entering the race – Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden – on a weekly basis. He still appears to lack a clear constituency or a stimulating message besides his quirky personality and desire to bring people together to do good things.
Hickenlooper polls below one percent, has no superior source of funds, such as the new online sources used effectively by Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders, or big donor gifts that seated senators, especially from politically rich states like California and New York, have. Although he raised $1 million at his announcement, it’s not clear if he has a stream of donations beyond his initial introduction.
Hickenlooper is not the favorite of activists in any of the major Democratic primary constituencies. Liberal issue activists have Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; minorities have Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julian Castro; Millennials have Beto O’Rourke; there is a surfeit of women; and establishment Democrats are likely to have Joe Biden. Hickenlooper is more of an independent than a Democrat, which in Colorado is a political asset, but not so much in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states.
His successful political career in Colorado has largely been accomplished as an independent businessman. His first and only contested election for Denver mayor was on a non-partisan ballot. A combination of an activist civic reputation, superior financing for Denver city races and creative advertising got him in the race. The endorsement of the businesses community and the conservative editorial page of the Rocky Mountain News gave him frontrunner position.
His ascension to the governorship was largely by appointment of the Democratic political establishment after the sudden retirement of Bill Ritter. Hickenlooper was the ranking Democrat from the largest political jurisdiction interested in the job. He had no primary. His two partisan elections for governor produced modest victories never more than 51 percent.
Although it’s not necessary to be a Democrat to win a Democratic Party presidential caucus or primary – witness Bernie Sanders – it helps to locate a constituency.
Nor has Hickenlooper identified any issue or bundle of issues that can excite primary voters, which appears especially important in 2020. He tends to be too balanced and reasonable to jump onto the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or the host of economic and social populist positions, from attacking billionaires and banks, to reconfiguring ICE or supporting sanctuary cities. In many pictures from the primary states, Hickenlooper is shown drinking beer, relating his background as a brew pub entrepreneur presenting his folksy personality. But being pragmatic and hospitable may not be enough in 2020.
Will Hickenlooper start to answer the questions tonight? Who are his constituents? What’s his platform?