When George Bush ran for U.S. President in 2004, he trounced John Kerry in the "who you'd rather have a beer with" poll. And for good reason, too -- Kerry, the perennially stone-faced New England intellectual, seemed more likely to lecture a drinking partner than have one too many and fall asleep watching Armageddon. Bush had the opposite appeal. Bush's handlers trumpeted the question as proof of presidential likeability and (therefore) electability. We all know how that turned out.
As the 2012 presidential election cycle kicks into high gear and rumors begin to grow legs in search of firm footing, Colorado's Governor Hickenlooper has been mentioned as one of the Democrat's big ifs for 2016. And while Hickenlooper himself is the first to remark on the size of that if (quite large, apparently), there's no doubting his supremacy in the "who you'd rather have a beer with" category. The geologist-turned-mayor-turned-governor earned his business stripes opening one of Colorado's first brew-pubs in 1988 Denver, revitalizing an entire neighborhood in the process.
Hickenlooper's other presidential qualities aren't too shabby either. In addition to a his current status as the second most popular governor in the country, and campaign ads spoken of in reverential whispers (see below), Public Policy Polling notes the governor is adept at pleasing the Democratic base without displeasing the rest. A centrist with enough appeal to win over party die-hards in a primary is a rare bird, indeed.
"You never say never, but it's hard to imagine," said Hickenlooper in an earlier interview with Politico. "What we're trying to do [in Colorado] necessarily, I think, is going to irritate and I think in some ways divide some of the strongest constituencies that are going to be making those decisions." Hickenlooper points to his tepid endorsement of fracking, an oil and gas industry practice many environmentalists believe has contaminated groundwater, as one such example of divisiveness. Indeed, a late February pro-fracking ad has already drawn attacks from Hickenlooper's left.
At a speech in January to the City Club of Denver, a woman in the crowd asked Hickenlooper if he intended to run for U.S. President. The Denver Post reports Hickenlooper said he regretted his wife wasn't present to answer the question, then responded,
"A: I wouldn't be good; B: I couldn't possibly win; C: I love what I'm doing," Hickenlooper said. "So, president, vice president, senator - as long as the community is willing to re-elect me, I'll be here as governor as long as you'll have me."
Vice president, then? With the mountain-west region's growing political importance, a Hick balanced ticket could pave the way for a presidential "West Path" to victory. An interview with the Denver Post douses those expectations in cold water, too.
"I like to get my hands in. I like to run stuff, right?" he told The Post. "I like to build teams and to operate things. The vice president doesn't have a large portfolio. Now, politically, the vice president has a huge portfolio, but I don't think there are too many people who would say that's my strong suit. ... I don't think I'm that good."
Speculation that Denver may bid to host the 2022 winter Olympics hasn't quieted presidential rumors, either. A winning bid, to be decided in 2013, could serve as the springboard that flings a Colorado politician into national (global?) affairs. As Denver Mayor Hancock told the Denver Post, "We are ready to take our rightful place on the global stage. Certainly nothing would help us do that greater than the Olympics in 2022." Overly speculative? Perhaps, but a quick study of Mitt Romney's Salt Lake City Olympic work highlights the potential political capital there.
A report in the Pueblo Chieftain cautions that a Denver 2022 Winter Olympic bid is far from certain. "What are the risks? But what are the rewards?" said Hickenlooper at the time. "Sure we'd get a lot of attention, but do we want all those people? I'm serious. Those are the questions you've got to ask."
So will he run? Hickenlooper certainly doesn't appear to carry the presidential aura -- he lacks the Rick Perry swagger, the John Edwards haircut. In its place, Hickenlooper has an inner goofball, a geek to the presidential field's ubiquitous jock. He seems eager to temper speculation: "The moment a governor in a state starts thinking in terms of what their political prospects would look like for some national office, the moment you do that you lose your ability to do stuff you really want to get done," he tells Politico.
ColoradoPols wisely points out the need to table the question until 2015 -- a lot can happen in the interim. For the time being, a Hickenlooper presidential run should be classified as an unlikely--but still possible--maybe. We'll drink to that.
WATCH Hickenlooper's campaign ads: