DENVER (AP) — John Hickenlooper, Colorado’s term-limited Democratic governor, released a candid autobiography and is doing the book talk rounds this week, reviving speculation that he is positioning himself to join Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign ticket.
Hickenlooper insists he hasn’t been approached by Clinton’s camp, and he uses self-deprecating humor to deflect queries about his ambitions. But his name has come up before.
“Everyone says I’m on the short list,” he said recently. “I think it’s probably a long list; I’m probably closer to the bottom.”
Hickenlooper is one of few Democratic governors who survived off-year Democratic routs over the past eight years. Virginia U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine is usually cited as a top candidate for vice president, along with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Another name being floated is Ken Salazar, the former U.S. interior secretary and U.S. senator from Colorado.
Because of the primary challenge from Clinton’s left flank posed by Bernie Sanders, there has been increased speculation she will turn to a Senate liberal for her vice president, like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Both, however, hail from states where GOP governors would be able to appoint their replacement.
Yet both Democrats and Republicans in Colorado, a key presidential swing state, say a Clinton-Hickenlooper fit makes sense.
OIL TO BEER TO POLITICS
Laid off as an oil and gas geologist during a 1980s bust, Hickenlooper founded a brewpub in 1988 that helped trigger the transformation of Denver’s gritty downtown warehouse district. The tireless civic booster was elected mayor in his first try at political office, re-elected, and helped bring the 2008 Democratic National Convention to Denver.
In 2010, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter told Hickenlooper he wouldn’t seek re-election and encouraged him to run. Hickenlooper did and beat a splintered Republican Party. Four years later, Hickenlooper narrowly defeated former Rep. Bob Beauprez in 2014’s GOP-dominant election.
WHY HE’D FIT
— Colorado is crucial to victory in November. Hickenlooper’s idiosyncratic humor and plain talk could boost Clinton’s favorability ratings among voters. Clinton “needs to find someone who’s likable, and John Hickenlooper’s definitely likable,” said Owen Loftus, a Republican campaign adviser.
— On divisive issues like guns and energy, Hickenlooper seeks consensus rather than confrontation.
Mike Stratton, a Democratic strategist in Denver, said Hickenlooper’s record of bipartisan problem-solving makes him an appealing vice presidential candidate. “That kind of thing is at a premium everywhere in the country,” Stratton said. “Obviously someone from the West helps balance the ticket.”
— Hickenlooper has overseen a growing economy with unemployment at 3.1 percent, compared with 9.1 percent when he took office. Bill Cadman, state senate GOP majority leader, calls him a “great marketing director for the state.”
— Hickenlooper reluctantly accepted voters’ decision to create the nation’s first recreational pot industry but insisted it be tightly regulated.
— Hickenlooper is a friend of fracking, the gas-drilling procedure some Democrats find dangerous. Clinton alienated many by saying she’d put coal miners out of work.
“It’s religion in the Democratic Party to oppose fracking, and I can see him having problems with the party’s more liberal elements,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican Party chair and political consultant.
— Hickenlooper was widely criticized in 2013 for granting an indefinite execution reprieve to a man who shot and killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. The governor said he wanted to put off a decision on the man’s execution until another governor took office, a delay that struck both death-penalty supporters and opponents as cowardly.
— He’s yet to find a solution with tax-averse Colorado Republicans to help Colorado’s underfunded schools. In 2013, voters overwhelmingly rejected his plan for a $1 billion income tax increase for schools.
— Hickenlooper threw his weight in 2013 into the passage of universal background checks and gun magazine limits, something that could endear him to Democrats but infuriate Republicans already incensed at Clinton’s gun control stance.
‘COLORADO DOES NOT QUIT’
Coloradans’ response to a series of disasters inspired the title of his book, “The Opposite of Woe,” subtitled, “My Life in Beer and Politics.”
In 2012, Colorado suffered the most destructive wildfires in state history and the Aurora theater shootings, in which James Holmes opened fire at a “Batman” movie, killing 12 people and wounding 70. The next year brought the assassination by an ex-felon of Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements, epic flooding that displaced thousands, and a high school shooting in which a student killed a classmate before taking his own life.
“Colorado does not quit,” Hickenlooper writes. “What we showed the world is that Colorado is the opposite of woe.”
Hickenlooper’s self-portrait includes using pot as a teen and taking a nude selfie in a (filled) bathtub. He comes off as both bullied and rebellious as a youth. He kept his attempts to rescue his first marriage to the writer Helen Thorpe and his courtship of his second spouse, Robin Pringle, out of the public eye.
“It’s certainly not the portrait of someone who’s trying to prepare themselves to be a vice presidential candidate,” Hickenlooper told reporters this week.
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.
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