Mike Littwin: Colorado’s not a swing state anymore, but that doesn’t mean we’ll skip 2020 campaign
December 15, 2018
When the news broke that Michael Bennet was mulling a run for president and even talking to Iowa politicos about the possibility, one thought immediately sprang to mind:
What the hell?
I mean, I'm not exactly shocked that Bennet is considering a run in 2020. Every halfway viable Democrat has to be considering a run against Donald Trump because, come on, it's Donald Trump and Democrats, to this point, still have no clear idea how to counter the alternative fact of his Trumpiness. It would seem to be anyone's game.
Of course, it's possible that Trump, in ever more trouble, won't even survive two more years in office. There's not a great history for presidents who also are unindicted co-conspirators, and Trump seems to be moving quickly in that direction.
But back to Bennet, it's one thing for a moderate Colorado Democrat with little name recognition outside Colorado to run for president. It's another for two such moderate Colorado Democrats — and two with a longstanding relationship — to both run for president. Bennet you could maybe understand. John Hickenlooper you could maybe understand. But Bennet and Hickenlooper? Bennet, who was Hick's chief of staff when he was mayor and then Denver's superintendent of schools? Hickenlooper, who will soon be ex-governor and in need of a job?
It would be as if when Tom Tancredo made his (still funny every time I think about it) abortive run for president in 2008 that Marilyn Musgrave also had decided to get in the race. Or maybe it's just Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter redux.
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I understand that Bennet and Hickenlooper have discussed all this, and I'm guessing Hickenlooper's reaction was somewhat along the lines of, you know, what the hell? I mean, which one gets to run on the why-can't-Washington-be-more-like-Colorado ticket? Hickenlooper can lay claim as governor. Of course, Bennet would have a keener understanding of Washington dysfunction. You can see the problem here, and that doesn't begin to describe the problem potentially facing the big-money Denver donors who would have to choose between them.
There are as many as 30 Democrats — here's a list — who are being mentioned as possible 2020 candidates, and I'm guessing maybe half or more will actually make at least a brief showing. Among those named: Biden, Beto, Bernie, Booker, Brown, Bloomberg, Bullock, Buttigieg (he's the mayor of South Bend, Ind.) and that's just the B's.
Why not Bennet? He has to believe he's in the top 30, anyway. He's a senator. He's smart. He can raise money. He's got a book coming out. He may not be a, uh, gifted speaker, he may not be long on big-room charisma, but he just got a big push in Vox, which called Bennet's child-credit-expansion bill from last year, crafted with Sherrod Brown, as "quite possibly the most important legislative policy idea of the 2020 election."
OK, I can give you about a dozen reasons why Bennet can't win, but I don't have any reasons why running would be bad for him. In theory, it would increase his stature. And in a race in which so many are running, and without a real favorite, no one would be surprised if there's a surprise. I mean, Beto O'Rourke, who had no name recognition outside of El Paso a year ago, is now the hot new thing, even after losing his Senate race in Texas.
But then there's Hickenlooper, who, by his latest estimation, is 63 percent of the way to deciding whether to run. Let me fill in the last 37 percent. He's running. I don't think he can win, either, but I have to admit that I've been a little too tough on the idea. Something about a prophet in his own state. His biggest problem is that while he may be able to compete in the moderate lane, this doesn't seem to be a time for a Democrat, who as mayor and governor, has pushed the concept of nonpartisanship about as far as you can take it.
He's a very good politician who has put a lot of planning into this step. I mean, Hickenlooper already had his book out. And even though he can be a gaffe machine, he has that same thing going as Joe Biden where his gaffes never seem to define him. Of course, Biden has been running for president since 1988. He did make it to vice president, of course. And Hickenlooper was on Hillary Clinton's veep short list, but it's just as well he didn't make it.
Neither Bennet nor Hickenlooper is on anyone's top 10 list as of now, or anywhere near it. If you're looking for something new, there are O'Rourke, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro. If you're looking for not-so-new populist left, there are Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Biden has the working-class vibe and memories of weekly lunches with Barack Obama. In the anything-can-happen category, George Will just put in 800 good words for liberal Sherrod Brown, who, I think, has a real shot.
But if Hickenlooper and/or Bennet run, there is this: Like many of you, I have been struggling with the new conventional wisdom that Colorado is no longer a swing state, for at least as long as Trump is president anyway. If the campaigns stop in Colorado in 2020, it will probably be either to raise money or for a layover at DIA on the way to Phoenix.
So, if the 2020 presidential campaigns won't come to Colorado, there's still the chance that we may go to them.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in the Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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