[A]fter a little more than a year in office, Hickenlooper has shown a remarkable ability to heal old wounds - between black and white, between city and suburbs - and his popularity has soared both in Denver and beyond the city limits. The mayor's astonishing debut has silenced those who once dismissed him as a political dilettante whose business success as the city's best-known barkeep had gone to his head. And now Hickenlooper seems to be rewriting the political rule book for mayors of Denver. All the old assumptions - a Denver mayor could never win support in the suburbs, a Denver Democrat could never appeal to out-state voters, a white mayor could never attract enthusiastic minority backing - are now open to question. And many think a new statewide political star has emerged from a brewpub on Wynkoop Street.Though Hickenlooper isn't on Tuesday's ballot, Steers notes that the mayor has a huge stake in the outcome of Referendum 4A, the $4.7 billion mass-transit initiative.
The FasTracks vote is the first time Hickenlooper has been in the position of challenging the governor on a high-profile metro issue, and it may mark his emergence as a more partisan leader. Hickenlooper tries to be diplomatic, portraying the difference with Owens over FasTracks as a simple disagreement - even though it also reveals a basic philosophical divide over how Colorado should deal with growth.But perhaps more than that, Hickenlooper's early success has sparked considerable talk among both Democratic and Republican insiders about his potential as a state-wide candidate for higher office:
The mayor's quick emergence as a regional leader has inevitably led to talk about his political ambitions. A recent Rocky Mountain News/News 4 poll showed Hickenlooper with a 91 percent approval rating in the city of Denver and 78 percent approval metrowide. The poll also showed the mayor winning a 50 percent favorable rating from Republicans. Numbers like these have set Colorado politicos abuzz, with many seeing Hickenlooper as a potential Democratic Party golden boy in a run for statewide office.
Party Chairman Chris Gates recently included Hickenlooper on a short list of Democrats who would make strong candidates for governor when Owens is forced out of the governor's mansion by term limits in two years. Republicans mulling the race include state Treasurer Mike Coffman and Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, but even some Republicans say that Hickenlooper would be a powerful contender.
"I think he'd be a great statewide candidate for whatever he wants to do," says Republican state Sen. Ken Chlouber of Leadville. "I think he's incredibly refreshing."
Chlouber believes that Hickenlooper's blend of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism would strike a chord on the Western Slope. He says Hickenlooper has to stay focused on doing a good job as mayor, but talk will inevitably grow of Hickenlooper as a statewide candidate.
"He's a different cut and the kind of politician the people in western Colorado appreciate," adds Chlouber.Don't miss the whole story.
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