| AspenTimes.com

2020ers look to Super Tuesday even as 2 other states loom

WASHINGTON — Nevada votes next and then South Carolina. But top Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination are already looking ahead to the biggest prize on the primary calendar: Super Tuesday, the slate of contests when more than a dozen states go to the polls.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is holding a town hall on Thursday night in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, a day before Sen. Bernie Sanders makes two North Carolina stops, then hits Texas. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will campaign in California between fundraisers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

All four states vote March 3, along with a crush of others, from Alabama to Colorado and from Maine to Utah, as well as Warren’s home state of Massachusetts and Sanders’ native Vermont. More than 1,300 delegates to the Democratic National Convention are at stake, about a third of the total.

The focus on Super Tuesday comes at a pivotal point in the campaign. For Sanders and Buttigieg, who have emerged in strong positions after contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, the travel gives them an opportunity to show their national appeal and woo larger concentrations of nonwhite voters. For struggling candidates like Warren, it’s a signal that they are still in the fight.

And for everyone, it’s a chance to prove they won’t cede this swath of delegate-rich states to Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor who has spent months building his campaign around Super Tuesday. He campaigned in Tennessee on Wednesday and will be in Texas and North Carolina on Thursday.

“All bets are off this cycle,” said Texas Democratic strategist Colin Strother, who is bullish on Bloomberg’s chances of resonating in his state and beyond.

So far, there’s no sign that candidates are completely bypassing Nevada or South Carolina. Every leading contender will be in Nevada this weekend as early voting begins. Democrats will caucus there on Feb. 22.

But some are shifting their resources as they begin an awkward balancing act of paying attention to the remaining early states while stockpiling enough money to keep themselves in the conversation in the bevy of contests unfolding next month. Warren, for instance, will be in South Carolina on Friday but is pulling television advertising from the state after this weekend. Some of that money will instead go to the Super Tuesday state of Maine.

Bloomberg, who is self-funding his campaign, doesn’t have to make such considerations. He’s skipped the first four states to deploy a political shock-and-awe campaign after that, spending heavily on television ads while already hiring more than 2,100 staffers in 40 states and U.S. territories, including all voting on Super Tuesday.

Past candidates have tried to forgo the early states in favor of larger ones voting later, with little success — including another former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, in 2008. But Bloomberg is making a larger bet on doing so than anyone has. He’s worth an estimated $60 billion and has already spent more than $200 million to hastily build a campaign infrastructure — with promises of plenty more where that came from.

The candidates doing battle before Super Tuesday, meanwhile, are a study in contrasts. Warren has deep campaign infrastructure in around 30 states but little momentum. Former Vice President Joe Biden left New Hampshire for South Carolina before the polls even closed on Tuesday, has important connections there and is counting on that to carry him in other southern Super Tuesday states. But he, so far, has fared worse than Warren.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar placed a strong third in New Hampshire but hasn’t yet built a national campaign, while Buttigieg is on a roll but faces questions about his appeal beyond the early majority-white states.

Fresh off his New Hampshire win, Sanders has already predicted victory in Nevada and California, pointing in part to his campaign’s outreach to Hispanic voters. But he’s also bet on record turnout that never materialized in Iowa, despite his efforts to grow the electorate.

Warren and Sanders have been sharply critical of Bloomberg, accusing him of trying to buy the election. In a memo coming out of New Hampshire, Warren’s team sought to reassure supporters that it will find its political footing on Super Tuesday, arguing the senator should win the minimum support required to claim delegates — at least 15% — in 108 of the 150 districts voting, or two-thirds of the Super Tuesday map.

“Warren is poised to finish in the top two in eight of 14 Super Tuesday states and “in the top three in all of them,” Warren’s campaign manager, Roger Lau, wrote.

States like Texas and California are so large that on-the-ground retail politicking often doesn’t work well there. But Super Tuesday state residents have already seen weeks of Bloomberg ads, Strother said, and that could potentially already be swaying those participating in early voting, which is underway in places like Minnesota.

“It’s unprecedented what he’s doing and the money he’s spending,” Strother said. “He’s running a national campaign, which is what all these other candidates wish they could do.”

Sanders targets Bloomberg spending at Colorado rally

DENVER — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he wants to bring an end to a system in which billionaires can buy elections.

Sanders referred to rival Michael Bloomberg in his speech Sunday night in Denver, The Denver Post reported.

“We’re going to end a corrupt political system in which billionaires buy elections,” Sanders said. “Democracy, to me, means one person, one vote. Not Bloomberg or anybody else spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to buy an election.”

Bloomberg has focused his campaign on Colorado and other Super Tuesday states, spending more than $417 million of his own money so far.

Sanders is seeking to keep his momentum after strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Officials say about 11,000 people attended the rally for Sanders at the Colorado Convention Center.

President Donald Trump and Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren are also scheduled to make campaign appearances in Colorado this week.

Democrats won’t commit to same-day release of Nevada results

LAS VEGAS — Democrats won’t commit to releasing the unofficial results of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses on the day of the vote, as they emphasize accuracy over speed in the aftermath of the chaos surrounding the Iowa caucuses.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told The Associated Press that several factors, including early voting and potentially high turnout, could affect the tabulation and timing of results. In addition, Nevada, like Iowa, will be reporting three sets of data from the multistage caucus process.

Perez said he doesn’t know when results will be released. “We’re going to do our best to release results as soon as possible, but our North Star, again, is accuracy,” he said late Tuesday after touring an early voting site in Las Vegas.

Nevada Democrats are hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos that ensnared the Iowa caucuses this month. Unlike the November general election and state primaries that are run by state and local election officials, the caucuses are administered by state parties.

Election officials, in general, have been raising concerns about public expectations to report results quickly, noting that totals reported on Election Day are unofficial. It takes weeks for votes to become official, after the results are checked and any irregularities are investigated. Election experts say it’s better to slow down reporting if problems surface to ensure results are accurate.

“If they set up expectations now, that’s a lot better than bungling the reporting like they did in Iowa and have everybody question what happened,” said Lawrence Norden, an elections expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s Law School.

A rushed effort by Iowa Democrats to deploy a mobile app to caucus organizers for sending in results ended in failure, with some volunteers unable to download it to their personal cellphones or access it and a coding error muddying the data that was sent in.

Nevada Democrats were going to use the same mobile app developer as Iowa, but quickly sidelined those plans. Instead, they will deploy party-owned, internet-connected iPads to precincts that will come with a Google form that will be used to access early vote totals, perform calculations during the caucus process and, ultimately, submit results electronically to the party.

The Google app and iPads are trusted commercial tech tools, but election experts have warned that developing and deploying any technology late in the process increases the risk of problems. Hundreds of volunteers need training, and the technology must also be field-tested.

In addition, Nevada Democrats offered early voting for the first time — another layer of complexity that Iowa didn’t attempt.

Party officials have emphasized that a multistep process will be used to verify results that will include calling in results to a secure hotline and a paper worksheet that will be completed at each precinct and delivered to a party office. They have also been holding numerous trainings, with 55 sessions before Saturday.

“We understand just how important it is that we get this right and protect the integrity of Nevadans’ votes,” Shelby Wiltz, caucus director of the Nevada state Democratic Party, said in a statement.

Tuesday was the first time any in-person training for volunteers was held involving the iPad and the Google form, according to Seth Morrison, a volunteer who will be leading a site with six precincts on Saturday. Morrison attended the training in Las Vegas and said two of the three iPads at the location failed initially to power on. Only four other volunteers were present.

Morrison said he thought the Google form was easy to use but expressed concern for those who may not be able to attend the training and for those who may not be tech-savvy.

“I’m glad they are making an effort and that we finally have more training materials and information,” Morrison said. “I am still concerned but committed to do the best I can.”

Precinct chairs will have a passphrase to access the Google form, party officials said. In addition, data transmissions will be encrypted to boost security. The iPads will be connecting to the internet by cellular network or local WiFi, the party said.

Volunteers and campaigns have raised concerns about how early voters will be integrated into the multistage caucus process. Jeff Weaver, senior adviser to Bernie Sanders’ campaign, said this was a top concern, despite assurances.

Paper records of the early vote will be available to precinct chairs if the iPads or Google forms fail, but the math formulas may prove complicated when incorporating the early votes into the in-person results.

Perez said Nevada Democrats were working on contingency plans in case something goes wrong. He noted that the DNC’s tech team has “been helping for some time, and they’ve been on the ground since shortly after Iowa.”

“We learned some hard lessons in Iowa,” Perez said. “I think one of the values that we add here is putting those lessons to bear.”

Bloomberg campaign spending tops $409 million

WASHINGTON — Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has plunged over $400 million of his personal fortune into his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, an astronomical sum that has led many of his rivals to charge that he is trying to buy the crown.

The figures, which his campaign released ahead of Thursday’s campaign finance reporting deadline, lay bare the massive operation the billionaire has built since his late entrance into the race at the end of November.

Other leading contenders have yet to detail their finances, which weren’t due until midnight. But the sheer size and scope of Bloomberg’ spending left little doubt that he is vastly outspending even his best financed rivals like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

It’s enabled him to build a sprawling apparatus, hire staff, court influential political figures and communicate with voters both online and on TV. That gives him an edge in the states that have yet to vote where the other contenders have only minimal operations.

“Our campaign has built a nationwide organization that is engaging voters daily about Mike’s record of taking on tough fights and winning,” campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement. “With over 2,400 staff across 43 states today, Mike is the only candidate with the record and resources to build the national infrastructure Democrats need to beat Donald Trump.”

Bloomberg’s campaign reported spending $220 million in the month of January alone. Forty-five million of that went toward digital advertising; another $126 million was spent on TV.

Payroll in January for his legions of staffers, who are paid above market-rate salaries, was $7.7 million, while corporate housing for many staffers cost an additional $1.2 million

Rent for his more than 100 campaign office cost $1.3 million

The eye-popping figures could help Bloomberg turn the corner on a widely-panned debate performance Wednesday night in Las Vegas, where he struggled to respond to attacks, particularly from Warren. She spearheaded a broad take-down, harshly criticizing him as “a billionaire who calls people fat broads and horse-faced lesbians” while highlighting his past embrace of “stop and frisk” police tactics as mayor that predominantly affected minorities.

After the debate Warren even warned that he was likely to use a new tranche of spending to move beyond the debate stage brawl.

“You know what I’ll bet he’s doing right now? I’ll bet he’s reaching in his pocket and spending $100 million more on advertising to try to erase everyone’s memory of what happened last night,” Warren said during an appearance Thursday on ABC’s The View.

AP FACT CHECK: Dems’ sticky health debate; Trump’s rally

WASHINGTON (AP) — Who’s got the goods on health care policy? That question was an undercurrent in the feisty Democratic presidential debate as rivals stood accused of being lightweights who have done little more than put up Post-it notes or slideshows on the subject.

Also in the Las Vegas debate, Mike Bloomberg spoke of coming to the realization that stop-and-frisk policing policies were being overused by his police department when he was New York mayor. Actually, a judge ruled against the practice and the mayor assailed the “dangerous” decision at the time.

From Phoenix, President Donald Trump ribbed the debating Democrats and twisted the health plans of some of them in the process.

A look at how some of their claims Wednesday night stack up with the facts:

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POST-ITS?

ELIZABETH WARREN on Amy Klobuchar’s health plan: “It is like a Post-it note, insert plan here. … Amy, I looked online at your plan. It’s two paragraphs.”

THE FACTS: That’s not true. Klobuchar’s health care policies run thousands of words online, addressing coverage, substance abuse and mental health, prescription drugs and the elderly. Some of her material lacks specifics found in the plans of several of her rivals. Yet aspects of her agenda are grounded in detailed legislation led or supported by the senator from Minnesota.

It’s true that Klochuchar’s main health policy page devotes two paragraphs to summarizing her way of achieving universal coverage. But that’s not the extent of her plan.

___

KLOBUCHAR, smiling: “I must say, I take personal offense since Post-it notes were invented in my state.”

THE FACTS: Yes, Post-it notes are one of the most well-known consumer products of St. Paul-based 3M, once known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co.

___

BERNIE SANDERS, to Pete Buttigieg: “Let’s level, Pete. Under your plan, which is a maintenance continuation of the status quo — “

WARREN: Buttigieg’s health care plan is “not a plan. It’s a PowerPoint.”

THE FACTS: It’s more than the status quo and more than a PowerPoint presentation. Buttigieg’s plan would cover almost all U.S. citizens and legal residents, even if it’s not as far reaching as the proposals of Sanders and Warren.

An analysis of health care overhaul plans by the Urban Institute and the Commonwealth Fund found that an approach like the one advocated by Buttigieg ,would reduce the number of uninsured people from more than 32 million to below 7 million. Those 7 million would mainly be people who are in the country illegally.

The proposal from Buttigieg features a new government-sponsored “public option” plan that even people with employer-sponsored coverage could join voluntarily.

Warren’s put-down of Buttigieg’s plan comes after she reconsidered her own approach to “Medicare for All,” deciding to proceed in stages. She would first expand coverage by building on existing programs and postpone the push for a system fully run by the government until the third year of her presidency.

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STOP AND FRISK

BLOOMBERG, on the stop-and-frisk policing policy when he was New York mayor: “What happened, however, was it got out of control and when we discovered — I discovered — that we were doing many, many, too many stop and frisks, we cut 95% of them out.”

THE FACTS: That’s a distortion of how stop and frisk declined. That happened because of a court order, not because Bloomberg had a revelation. When the ruling came out, Bloomberg called it a “dangerous decision made by a judge who I think does not understand how policing works and what is compliant with the U.S. Constitution.”

In Bloomberg’s first 10 years in office, the number of stop-and-frisk actions increased nearly 600% from when he took office in 2002, reaching a peak of nearly 686,000 stops in 2011. That declined to about 192,000 documented stops in 2013, his final year as mayor.

Bloomberg achieved his claim of a 95% cut by cherry-picking the quarterly high point of 203,500 stops in the first quarter of 2012 and comparing that with the 12,485 stops in the last quarter of 2013.

The former mayor defended the practice even after leaving office at the end of 2013 and only apologized for it a few weeks before declaring his candidacy for presidency.

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TRUMP

TRUMP, on Sanders’ Medicare for all plan: “Think of this: 180 million Americans are going to lose health care coverage under this plan. But if you don’t mind, I’m not going to criticize it tonight. Let them keep going and I’ll start talking about it about two weeks out from the election.” — Arizona rally.

THE FACTS: That’s a thorough misrepresentation of the Sanders plan as well as similar plans by Democrats in Congress. People wouldn’t “lose” coverage. Under Sanders, they would be covered by a new and universal government plan that replaces private and job-based insurance. Democrats who stop short of proposing to replace private and job-based insurance would offer an option for people to take a Medicare-like plan, also toward the goal of ensuring universal coverage.

___

DIRTY COAL

BLOOMBERG, citing his philanthropy’s work with the Sierra Club: “Already we’ve closed 304 out of the 530 coal fire plants in the United States, and we’ve closed 80 out of the 200 or 300 that are in Europe.”

THE FACTS: He’s wrongly taking credit for driving the U.S. coal industry to its knees.

The U.S. coal industry’s plunge is largely due to market forces, above all drops in prices of natural gas and renewable energy that have made costlier coal-fired power plants much less competitive for electric utilities. Bloomberg has indeed contributed huge sums to efforts to close coal plants and fight climate change, but against the backdrop of an industry besieged on other fronts.

U.S. coal production peaked in 2008, but since then has fallen steadily. That’s due largely to a boom in oil and gas production from U.S. shale, begun under the Obama administration, that made natural gas far more abundant and cheaper, and falling prices for wind and solar energy, partly because of improving technology in the renewable sector.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reaffirmed in a report in December the extent to which the market has turned away from coal.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.

Trump reelection campaign, RNC to spend $10M on voting lawsuits

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee announced Thursday that they will spend more than $10 million during the 2020 election cycle to battle Democrats on voting-related lawsuits and to bolster their Election Day operations.

The announcement comes one day after the RNC and the Michigan Republican Party formally requested that a federal judge in Michigan’s Eastern District allow the groups to be added as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the Democratic-aligned super PAC Priorities USA. The super PAC is challenging state laws that prohibit political organizers from helping voters submit absentee ballot applications and bar groups from hiring people to transport voters to the polls.

The Republican promise to dedicate millions to anticipated voting rights fights follows court challenges by left-leaning groups against states that they believe are unconstitutionally suppressing participation in elections.

RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in announcing the new spending on legal efforts that the Republican Party is ready “to aggressively defend” its stake in the November elections.

“Democrats are trying to rig the game with frivolous lawsuits that do nothing but create electoral chaos, waste taxpayer money, and distract election officials in an attempt to advance the Democrats’ voter suppression myth because they know they can’t beat President Trump at the ballot box,” McDaniel said. “These actions are dangerous, and we will not stand idly by while Democrats try to sue their way to victory in 2020.”

Democrats see addressing voting rights in the lead-up to the November elections as crucial after Trump won the White House in 2016 by razor-thin margins in the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The Trump campaign and the RNC said they also plan to train thousands of lawyers and volunteers in battleground states on federal rules for early voting, Election Day activities, post-election canvassing, and potential recounts.

Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, on Twitter called the Trump campaign and RNC effort “shameful” and vowed the group “won’t stop fighting voter suppression until every barrier to the ballot box is torn down.”

News of the GOP legal campaign was first reported by Politico.

Biden leads the pack in funds raised in Aspen area

Pitkin County residents have poured $138,412 into the campaign coffers of active presidential candidates since Jan. 1, with Joe Biden well ahead of the pack.

An Aspen Times review of Federal Election Commission records shows Biden has raised $67,390 this year from Pitkin County’s five ZIP codes considered the campaign donors’ full-time residences. Those figures for Biden, as well as other presidential hopefuls, do not include donations from those who aren’t full-time Aspen residents and attended campaign fundraisers or donated to presidential campaigns in the Aspen area this year.

The former vice president and his wife, Jill, visited a private Aspen residence in August for a fundraiser charging $1,000 to $2,800 to attend. The event was held at the Northstar Drive home of Jane and Marc Nathanson, who founded Falcon Cable and sold it for $3.7 billion in 1999.

Sen. Michael Bennet also has stumped in Aspen this year, including a town hall-style meeting in August at the Pitkin County Library hosted by the Pitkin County Democrats. Polls show Bennet with about 1% support, but the $27,056 he’s raised this year in Pitkin County put him second to Biden in the local fundraising arena among presidential candidates.

Bennet and Biden are seeking the Democratic nomination to run against President Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent, in 2020.

Democratic candidates have set their sights on the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucus, which can bolster some campaigns and crush others.

Howard Wallach, president of the Pitkin County Democrats, said the monetary support coming in locally, with the election one year away, “says people are desperate to change the occupants of the White House. They’re desperate, and they’re serious.”

In its most recent poll Nov. 8, The New York Times showed Biden with 26% support, ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (20%), Sen. Bernie Sanders (17%) and Pete Buttigieg (8%).

Biden is the only one of those four who have made fundraising stops in the Aspen area this year.

Yet other Democrats seeking their party’s bid have campaigned in the area this year, including Sen. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Billionaire Tom Steyer also was in Snowmass Village in August for the American Renewable Energy Day summit.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also made presidential fundraising stops in Aspen this year before dropping out of the race. Hickenlooper currently is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for U.S. Senate.

Sanders might not have a strong showing in Pitkin County when it comes to dollars raised, but he has generated the most individual contributions so far — 89. Yet 55 of those donations came from one individual, including 48 contributions for one buck each. Sanders has prided himself on small donations, and recently reported that 84% of his contributions were $200 or less, according to publicintegrity.org.

The number of separate contributions also helped candidates meet one of the minimum thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee in its first two debates in the summer.

Trump has raised $2,407 so far this year from Pitkin County residents, while Vice President Mike Pence visited Aspen on July 22 for a private event held at the downtown Caribou Club. The event was a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee and the re-election of President Trump.

Aspen’s primary ZIP code, 81611, can be lucrative for candidates. In 2018, 81611 accounted for $3.15 million in donations to federal candidates, political action committees and other political funds, an amount that was 29 times more what the average ZIP code generated, according to opensecrets.org.

The Federal Election Commission’s limit for contributions is $2,800 per individual per federal election in 2019-20. The FEC, which oversees campaign finance law in national elections, also requires individual donors, either themselves or through their political party, to report the contributions.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

John Hickenlooper urged to swap White House bid for Senate run

DENVER — John Hickenlooper has rebuffed entreaties from his campaign staff to drop his White House bid and consider running for a Senate seat in Colorado, insisting he still has a path to win the Democratic presidential nomination, Democrats said Tuesday.

The former two-term Colorado governor is struggling to break through a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates. He’s in the bottom tier of polling, hasn’t generated significant fundraising and is at risk of being eliminated from the fall debates.

But that’s not persuading Hickenlooper to become the first person to bow out of the largest Democratic presidential field in modern history. He insists he still has a chance, a belief that triggered the departure of four top aides, ranging from his campaign manager to his digital director.

The discussion about exiting the race was described by a Democrat familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. Politico first reported the conversations.

Hickenlooper on Monday night announced he hired a new campaign manager, M.E. Smith, a well-regarded operative who worked on Hickenlooper’s successful reelection in 2014 and last year ran Sen. Bob Casey’s winning campaign in Pennsylvania.

Smith was expected to run an outside group on Hickenlooper’s behalf funded by his financial backers. She’ll now be responsible for the entire campaign.

On Tuesday, Hickenlooper told MSNBC: “We felt that it was the right time for a change.”

Hickenlooper’s campaign manager Brad Komar, national finance director Dan Sorenson and digital director John Schueler have all left the campaign, and spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said she will be departing in the coming weeks.

According to people who have spoken to him, Hickenlooper still believes the race could break his way. He’s watching whether former Vice President Joe Biden’s stumbles at last week’s debate might provide an opening to play a more dominant role as a leader of the party’s moderate wing.

Hickenlooper thinks he could shine during the next Democratic presidential debate in Detroit later this month. That could help him generate a swell of small-dollar donors who could push him over his greatest obstacle: the Democratic National Committee’s requirement that candidates receive donations from 130,000 people to make the stage of the third debate.

“Hard but doable,” said Alan Salazar, a veteran Democratic strategist in Denver who was once Hickenlooper’s gubernatorial chief of staff but does not work for his presidential bid. “He is one of the best networkers I have ever known, so it’s probably a challenge he wants to take on.”

It won’t be easy for Hickenlooper. People familiar with the issue said his presidential bid, which has been active since March, has only 13,000 donors, one-tenth of the number needed to make the third debate. He was relatively quiet during the first debate, and acknowledged Tuesday that he was not a great debater.

“I’m not a former prosecutor, I don’t go after the other candidates,” Hickenlooper said on MSNBC in an apparent reference to California Sen. Kamala Harris, who dominated the debate.

The Senate race may not be an attractive or feasible option, either. Washington Democrats wooed Hickenlooper to challenge Sen. Cory Gardner, widely seen as the most vulnerable Republican senator, rather than run for president in 2020. Hickenlooper, however, has repeatedly said he wouldn’t be interested in becoming a legislator.

“If the Senate is so good, how come all those senators are trying to get out?” Hickenlooper asked during a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club last month, referring to the half-dozen senators running for president.

There may not be room for him in the Senate race. A dozen Democrats have already announced challenges to Gardner. Two announced this week that they raised more than $1 million in the past quarter, more than Hickenlooper is thought to have raised for his presidential bid over the same period.

Hickenlooper has tried to establish himself as a leading moderate in the race, repeatedly warning Democrats that they risk being tagged as socialists by tacking too far to the left. He’s tried to tout his unusual profile as a former businessman — Hickenlooper became rich founding a series of brewpubs — and governor of a swing state. But Democratic voters have appeared uninterested in his message, or at least the messenger.

On MSNBC, Hickenlooper admitted: “I’m not always the perfect spokesperson for my own ideas.” But he also quoted his mother, who was twice widowed before she was 40: “You never quit.”

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet enters Democratic field for president

DENVER (AP) — U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado jumped into the packed Democratic presidential primary on Thursday, announcing a 2020 campaign that had been stalled while he was treated for prostate cancer.

Bennet, a former head of Denver Public Schools who has carved out a reputation as a policy-oriented moderate, made his announcement on CBS’ “CBS This Morning,” saying the country faces two “enormous challenges,” among others: “One is the lack of economic mobility and opportunity for most Americans, and the other is the need to restore integrity to our government.”

“I think we need to do both of those things,” he said.

The son of a former ambassador to India and a Yale law school graduate who worked in the Clinton administration, Bennet worked for Republican billionaire Phil Anschutz when he moved to Colorado in the late 1990s. But when he re-entered public life, he did so as a Democrat, serving as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Hickenlooper went on to become Colorado governor and now is also competing for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The presence of two moderate Coloradans who started their political careers in Denver City Hall reflects how crowded the Democratic presidential field has become. Bennet’s understated style and distaste for the sound bites required in a political campaign have usually led to speculation that he’d seek a Cabinet position rather than try to become the next president. But he began moving to assemble a presidential bid late last year and planned an announcement in April. He had to pause after being diagnosed with prostate cancer this spring.

Bennet, 54, told Colorado journalist Mike Littwin that he’d resume the campaign if he was treated successfully but that he wanted to make a point by disclosing his medical condition.

“I don’t want to be hysterical, but if it was left in me undetected, it could kill me,” Bennet said. “It won’t because I have insurance and decent medical care. The idea that the richest country in the world hasn’t figured out how to have universal health care is beyond embarrassing. It’s devastating.”

Bennet has been a vocal opponent in the Democratic Party of the push for single-payer health care championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, another 2020 presidential candidate. Instead, Bennet proposes letting consumers buy into Medicare through insurance exchanges, arguing that that will be a more efficient and realistic path to universal coverage. Likewise, Bennet has pushed back against arguments by some other presidential hopefuls that Democrats should respond to Republican tactics by expanding the size of the Supreme Court, saying the party needs to avoid the same scorched-earth tactics that, he says, its main rival employs.

Indeed, in a 4-minute launch video released Thursday morning, Bennet positioned himself as a truth teller willing to level with voters.

“I’m not going to pretend free college is the answer,” he said. “I’m not gonna say there’s a simple solution to a problem if I don’t believe there is one.”

Despite his professorial reputation, Bennet has shown an ability to be a tough campaigner. Appointed in 2009, Bennet won his first election in 2010 by pounding his Republican rival for opposing abortion rights and comparing homosexuality to alcoholism, eking out a narrow win in an otherwise disastrous year for Bennet’s party. Four years later, Bennet chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a position that put him in contact with a network of national donors who also can help fund a presidential campaign.

Bennet gained internet fame this year when he blasted Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for backing a bill to pay Coast Guard members during the partial government shutdown but not reopen the government. Bennet said Cruz once led a 16-day government shutdown in a failed bid to derail funding for the Affordable Care Act at a time when Colorado was experiencing catastrophic flooding, delaying relief efforts.

“When the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded,” Bennet shouted. “People were killed. People’s houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were destroyed, forever.”

Bennet accused Cruz of crying “crocodile tears” this time around.

Cruz responded on the Senate floor by saying Bennet “spent a great deal of time yelling” and “attacking me personally.”

“I think we should discuss issues and substance and facts and not simply scream and yell at each other,” Cruz said.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joins 2020 presidential race

DENVER (AP) — Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said on Monday he’s running for president, casting himself as a can-do uniter who’s used to overcoming adversity and accomplishing liberal goals in a politically divided state.

“I’m running for president because we need dreamers in Washington, but we also need to get things done,” Hickenlooper, 67, said in a video announcing his campaign. “I’ve proven again and again I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver.”

He becomes the second governor to enter the sprawling field, after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week, and is trying to cast himself as a pragmatist who can also take on President Donald Trump. Though as governor Hickenlooper prided himself for staying above partisan fights, he has argued his record as a former governor and big-city mayor distinguishes him from a broad field of Democratic presidential aspirants who are backing ambitious liberal plans on health care, taxes and the climate.

Hickenlooper has hedged on supporting Democratic rallying cries like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal to combat climate change. He once worked as a geologist for a petroleum company and was roundly criticized for telling a congressional panel he drank fracking fluid while arguing for the safety of the energy extraction technique.

It was after Hickenlooper was laid off from his geologist position during the energy bust of the 1980s that he inadvertently started on his road to politics. He opened a brewpub in a then-desolate stretch of downtown Denver that unexpectedly took off. That enabled Hickenlooper to become wealthy by building a mini-empire of restaurants and bars. It also led to him making a quixotic run for Denver mayor in 1993. Campaign ads featured Hickenlooper feeding quarters into parking meters to protest the city’s charging for Sunday parking downtown. He won handily.

As mayor, Hickenlooper helped persuade dozens of suburban cities, sometimes led by Republicans, to back a tax hike to fund a light-rail network. He was filmed diving out of an airplane to advocate for a statewide ballot measure to suspend an anti-tax measure passed in the 1990s and allow the state budget to grow. When he ran for governor in 2010, he featured an ad of himself fully dressed, walking into a shower to scrub off negative attacks.

It’s all part of Hickenlooper’s quirky political image — he vows not to run attack ads and has frequently made fun of his tendency to misspeak and wander off political message.

Hickenlooper was supported by some Republicans as governor. His first term was marked by a series of disasters and tragedies, some of which he alluded to in his launch video — record wildfires and floods, the assassination of his own prison chief by a member of a white supremacist prison gang and the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which killed 12. After that attack and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre in Connecticut months later, Hickenlooper called for gun control legislation and signed bills requiring universal background checks and limiting magazine capacity to 15 rounds.

“We’re a purple state that got universal background checks passed,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, stressing how he can “bring people together on the other side and actually get stuff done.”

Hickenlooper backed civil unions for gay couples and signed a law providing them in Colorado in 2013, before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. He announced in 2013 that he opposed the death penalty and refused to execute a quadruple-murderer who was on death row. And, as he prepared to leave office and was openly mulling a presidential bid, he ordered the state to adopt California’s low-emission vehicle standards to fight climate change.

The last move was widely seen as shoring up an area that has long created tension for Hickenlooper — his relationship with the energy industry. Groups opposed to the expansion of energy exploration into Denver’s suburbs often complained that Hickenlooper was too close to the oil and gas business, which remains a powerful force in Colorado politics.

As governor, Hickenlooper opposed ballot measures to limit drilling in populated areas. Hickenlooper’s successor, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, has been more critical of the industry. Last week, Polis announced he’d pursue a wide range of new policies that would limit energy exploration.

Another potential vulnerability for Hickenlooper is money. As a former governor, he can’t recycle donations from prior campaigns into a presidential account, as can the many U.S. Senators in the field. Hickenlooper’s political committee raised $1 million during the first two months of the year, in contrast to senators such as Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who raised more than that amount in the 24 hours after they announced their campaigns.

Still, Hillary Clinton vetted Hickenlooper as a possible running mate in 2016, and Democrats have spoken about his potential national appeal for years. In his launch video, Hickenlooper says, following images of Trump: “As a skinny kid with Coke bottle glasses and a funny last name, I’ve stood up to my fair share of bullies.”

Hickenlooper is expected to focus heavily on Iowa, where many Coloradans come from and a state where his low-key, genial approach could be potent. In previous trips he’s emphasized his record and how he can bring warring parties together. During a January swing he stopped by a Des Moines brewpub where a customer asked him how he’d win the primary of “who hates Trump the most?”

Hickenlooper responded by rattling off his governing accomplishments.

“Everyone yells at Trump, he will win,” Hickenlooper said. “You have to laugh at him and joke along and say: ‘Hey, this is what I did.'”