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Just Getting Started john hickenlooper

The man in the green sweater listened carefully for one hour as John Hickenlooper, the former mayor of Denver and most recently governor of Colorado, told his life story, explained why he's running for president and what he would do if elected. Then he listened carefully to the questions and answers. And then he stood in line patiently for ten minutes to speak directly to Hickenlooper, because he had something important to say.

As a New Hampshire voter who takes his vote seriously he had traveled to Keene State College that Saturday morning to perform his due diligence.

As he approached Hickenlooper he reached out his hand and said, "I came here this morning so I could write you off [as a contender], but after listening to you, I can't." Hickenlooper thanked him for his candor and continued to make the sale directly.

Like most candidates, Hickenlooper believes in his own story and believes his previous success is an indicator of future results.

He never intended to get into politics, but as a businessman, was elected mayor of Denver. A few years later he had an unexpected chance to run for governor. He took it and was elected to two terms. He knows he is not in the top tier of candidates for the Democratic nomination, but he's fine with that, because he believes he has been here before and come out on top.

Top right: Hickenlooper is introduced at Keene State. Bottom right: A typical New Hampshire voter takes notes.

As a former governor and mayor, Hickenlooper can offer his executive leadership experience in politics as a distinguishing factor when compared with the senators, congressmen and businesspeople in the field, but his message is similar.

It is about listening and competence.

Like the other candidates (and most notably like President Trump and the Bernie Sanders of 2016), Hickenlooper believes what people most want is a government that works. An end to fierce partisanship that permanently divides the federal government.

He is not interested in winning a partisan point, he is interested in moving forward with a policy agenda defined by his worldview, but not inflexible to the point of paralysis. In this regard, he is like many governors who have run for the White House in the past. Governors do not have the luxury of being uncompromising if they hope to accomplish anything in office. This is especially true of governors working with legislatures controlled by the opposing political party.

Difficult to stand out.

In a field of 22 candidates, it is difficult to set yourself apart by selling level-headed pragmatism.

On this Saturday morning in May, the number of Democrats running for president almost matched the number of voters who came to hear Hickenlooper make his case. This is the Norman Rockwell, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, image of running for president. One single individual who thinks he has what it takes, starting small, making his case until the crowds get bigger and bigger and everyone is listening and agreeing with what you have to say.

Governor Hickenlooper is the type of candidate the national political press views as ideal.

A Democrat who won in a state that could vote Republican, thoughtful with a quiet manner, and a willingness to listen and engage without resorting to partisan talking points that are meant to build support around wedge issues.

But from the perspective of how a campaign becomes a winning campaign that approach tends to look better on paper. Hickenlooper has upset conventional wisdom before in his campaigns for mayor and governor, but it is hard to imagine how a soft spoken candidate who intends to win based on the merit of his ideas alone, would fare against President Trump who has shown a willingness to do anything to win and sees thoughtfulness as weakness.

Trump promised middle America a government that would work. He said he alone could fix it.

In 2020, voters will get to decide who they believe. The president, or those who promise a better way.

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© Dean Pagani 2019

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