That’s the Hickenlooper his friends know and love. It’s the boss his communications staff has come to expect. And it’s the prospective presidential candidate that skeptics aren’t sure can survive the street fight of a Democratic primary.
Hickenlooper’s name never rolls off the tongue, particularly not the wagging ones of Washington’s political circles. But with his launch Monday of a federal political-action committee, Giddy Up PAC, and as he hits the stump for fellow Democrats in Florida and Georgia, the unconventional second-term swing-state governor is finally ready to go national.
A pro-business social liberal with 15 years of executive experience and consistently high job-approval ratings is set to test whether his pragmatic profile has resonance beyond Colorado’s peaks and prairies.
If anything, he’s the antithesis of the tough-talking real-estate magnate who shocked the political world in 2016 with a simple four-word tagline and slim pluralities in key Rust Belt states. It’s hard to know what primary or general-election voters will want in 2020. But after four years of Donald Trump, why not “Hick”? Stranger things have happened.
He’s got a story to tell. Plenty of them, in fact.
Two days later, he is just outside the door to his office, showing off a photo of a massive trout he’d caught Sunday to a few staffers. We step inside and he tells me to sit at the head of a long conference table at the far end of the room. It’s clear Hickenlooper has spent a lot of time examining his interesting life, which pre-politics included stints restoring old buildings and warehouse districts, owning a brewpub, and working as an oil-and-gas geologist, which is what originally brought him to Colorado.
His 2016 memoir, The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics, includes surprisingly revealing details of loves lost and the effect of his father dying when he was 8 years old while growing up on the Main Line outside Philadelphia.
With just a few months left in office, I asked him what’s next, since his political ambitions are one of the worst kept secrets in Colorado. His answers are not linear.
He begins telling me how he prioritizes his time transitioning from the governor’s mansion to a possible presidential bid, then segues to a scene a day earlier at a purifying, ancient “sweat lodge” with a shaman from the Cheyenne tribe and a New York hedge-fund guy he’d fly-fished with that morning who’s spent millions on conservation efforts along Colorado’s Blue River and Highway 9. Someone in the lodge asked Hickenlooper to list his top three accomplishments in office, but Hickenlooper never tells me what they are, saying he related the story because it reminded him how much more he wants to do in his remaining four months.
“If I’m serious about running for president—really giving it the thought it needs and talking to the right people and building up a network of people who would aggressively support a moderate, someone in the present politics that’s somewhat of a long shot—I’ve got to do two jobs simultaneously,” he said. “Plus, I’ve got a 16-year-old son who’s not undemanding, to use a double negative.”