It’s not a windfall in campaign terms, but Colorado governor John Hickenlooper did pretty well in the first official two days of his presidential campaign. He took in over one million dollars, a decent start for someone who hadn’t been considered a first-tier contender at the beginning of the year.
“The surge of support and enthusiasm for the governor is clear,” the campaign’s finance chair declared. Perhaps, perhaps not, but it’s at least some indication that he might run with the top tier after all. Only three other candidates managed to match or surpass that pace, CBS notes:
- Sen. Bernie Sanders – raised more than $1 million for his 2020 presidential campaign in less than four hours
- Sen. Kamala Harris – raised $1.5 million from more than 38,000 people in all 50 states in the first 24 hours of her campaign
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar – raised more than $1 million in the first 48 hours of her campaign.
All three have been in the race longer, so they have bigger war chests in these early days. The question is whether Hickenlooper can sustain the pace. Sanders has reportedly exceeded the $6 million mark after one day and should be well beyond that now. Sanders gets plenty of media coverage, which helps, as does Harris. Hickenlooper and Klobuchar may fade into the background.
Still, as I argue in my column at The Week, Democrats should pay attention to Hickenlooper. On paper, anyway, he’s precisely what they need:
If Democrats want to beat Trump in 2020, they need to either win the insider-outsider battle or at least neutralize it. Four years into office, it’s still tough to paint Trump as an insider, especially given the disdain and hostility directed at him by the Washington establishment on both sides of the aisle. A heartland governor like Hickenlooper carrying the Democratic banner would at least make that calculation a stalemate.
In contrast with Inslee, who hales from deep-blue Washington, Hickenlooper boasts a track record that might appeal to some of the very disaffected voters Trump won in 2016. Republicans in Colorado might not be thrilled with their governor, but he won two statewide elections while Cory Gardner took a Senate seat for the GOP.
Granted, Hickenlooper may not be the best option for Democrats hoping to seize the middle ground in American politics. John Bel Edwards (D), the first-term governor of Louisiana, arguably makes for a better candidate on paper: Edwards won in a deep-red state and could potentially pave the way to victory in GOP strongholds like Georgia and Arizona. But his positions on gun rights and abortion probably make him anathema in a party swinging hard toward the progressive left. Hickenlooper’s views are less estranged from the Democratic grassroots, and anyway, Edwards thus far has given no sign of interest in a presidential run.
Hickenlooper still has to prove himself on the campaign trail, as plenty of candidates stumble despite strong credentials. (Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker [R] and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley [D] are two examples of this from 2016.) But even if Hickenlooper specifically can’t compete, he’s still the kind of nominee Democrats should be recruiting — and the kind they won’t find inside the Beltway.
Democrats are betting that anyone with a reasonable level of competence can pull it off against Trump in 2020. They may be right, but doubling down on the swamp after 2016’s shocking loss remains a big, big gamble.