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John Hickenlooper speaks at his campaign launch rally at Denver's Civic Center Park on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Photo by Jay Bouchard

Hickenlooper’s First Week as a Presidential Candidate Was Series of Highs and Lows

Making friends with McConnell. Rejecting labels. Playing the keys in Iowa. Here's a look at John Hickenlooper's first official week on the presidential campaign trail.

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A week ago, John Hickenlooper announced the thing we all knew he was going to announce: He is officially running for president. As Coloradans woke up to the news of his presidential bid on March 4, the former Denver mayor and Colorado governor was already in Times Square, taking questions from George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America. That was the beginning of a busy week for Hickenlooper, who’s trying to woo voters in key primary states and increase his name recognition across the country.

As the skinny kid with Coke-bottle glasses and a funny last name (his words, not ours) set out last week under the microscope of national media, he made a few ripples—if not waves—as he laid out his strategy and tested the presidential campaign waters. Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of his first week on the big stage.

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Critics knock him for McConnell comment

In his first major interview as a presidential candidate, Hickenlooper told Stephanopoulos that in order to bridge the partisan divide in Washington, he’d sit down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and talk things out.

His comments drew ire from critics on social media, particular from liberals who have seen the Democratic Party struggle to make headway with McConnell over the past decade. Many accused Hickenlooper of being dangerously naive and lacking a real understanding of how partisan division has paralyzed Washington. Ben LaBolt, a former staffer for President Barack Obama, told the Daily Beast in response to Hick’s comment: “I think all of the pixie dust in the world couldn’t make that happen. Believe me, we tried it. We said it. We prayed for it. It wasn’t going to happen. It’s not going happen now and it’s not going to happen ever.”

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He wasn’t the only former Obama staffer who thought Hickenlooper’s comments truly sounded “silly.” Dan Pfeiffer, cohost of Pod Save America, tweeted that the statement was, “dangerously naive,” and the cohost of the twice-weekly progressive political podcast, Tommy Vietor, said on the March 4 show, “No, going to conservative mayors across Colorado and getting them to work with you is not remotely the same as going into Mitch McConnell’s office and getting him to work with you.”

The Denver Post and the New York Times say he’s a nice guy

Hickenlooper’s campaign promises to heal the divisions and “repair the damage done to America.” According to some local and national media, he might just be the candidate to do it. On March 5, the New York Times published a column in which Frank Bruni writes that Hickenlooper, at his best, is “upbeat, affable, and allergic to drama,” and in the 2020 race, that might actually be what it takes to beat President Donald Trump.

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Also on March 5, the Denver Post editorial board published a piece titled: “Why we’re thrilled John Hickenlooper is running for president.” The board argues that, despite how people evaluate his policy making, “no one can deny that as governor he always tried to strike a tone of unity” and that he’s never tried to demonize his political opponents, even behind the scenes.

Weighing the odds

Of course, even though primaries are a year away, national media outlets are already satiating the national appetite for odds-making. So when Hickenlooper tossed his hat into the ring last week, big publications across the country were quick to size up his chances of winning the Democratic nomination and becoming president. FiveThirtyEight noted that while Hickenlooper will likely be popular with millennials and Democratic Party loyalists, he has long odds at winning the nomination because he lacks a national base. Rolling Stone, which maintains a continuously updated leaderboard for the Democratic candidates, has Hickenlooper ranked number 13 out of 24, one spot behind Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who announced his candidacy on March 1. And according to a poll conducted by CNN and the Des Moines Register, Hickenlooper was the first choice for less than one percent of respondents evaluating the Democratic primary field.

Hick hits fundraising goals

Less than 48 hours after he officially announced his campaign, Hickenlooper’s campaign announced that he had hit the $1 million fundraising milestone. According to CBS News, only Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Sen. Amy Kobuchar have raised that much money in such a short time period. Additionally, Hick has promised to accept zero corporate PAC money during his campaign, and the early fundraising haul includes contributions from small donors in all 50 states, according to reporting from the Denver Post.

His campaign launch rally in Denver draws thousands

Hick’s first major speech as a presidential candidate came on March 7 at a raucous rally at Civic Center Park in downtown Denver. According to the campaign, nearly 5,000 people turned out for the event, which featured speakers including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, former mayor Wellington Web, as well as several state legislators and friends. His speech focused on his promise to unify the country while also taking sharp jabs at President Trump’s leadership style. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats then took the stage and played the evening out.

Hick avoids (then accepts) capitalist label

The day after his big rally in Denver, Hickenlooper appeared on MSNBC and was asked by Joe Scarborough whether or not he would call himself a “proud capitalist.” Hickenlooper effectively dodged the question, saying most Democrats “don’t care about the labels.” Scarborough asked him twice more, but Hickenlooper repeatedly avoided a direct answer. The exchange drew criticism most notably from Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks and potential presidential candidate, who tweeted that it proves that the Democratic Party is now controlled by its most progressive members.

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Then, on March 10, Hickenlooper appeared on CBS News’ Face the Nation and told host Margaret Brennan that he is “happy to say I’m a capitalist,” but still maintained he has no interest in labels.

Hick tickles the ivories In Iowa

Over the course of his terms as mayor and governor, Coloradans learned that in addition to his political ambitions, Hickenlooper is an impressive musician who plays the banjo, guitar, and piano. Voters in Dubuque, Iowa, got taste of his talent over the weekend when he put on an impressive show at a house party.

If that’s not a solid way to end Hick’s first week as a presidential candidate, we don’t know what is.

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