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INSIGHTS | Hick gets the band back together, but is it for president?

Author: Joey Bunch - October 1, 2018 - Updated: October 1, 2018

Then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is interviewed by TV host Aaron Harber at Invesco Field at Mile High on the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Aug. 28, 2008. (Boots Gifford / Special to Colorado Politics)

Gov. John Hickenlooper is dipping his toe in the presidential waters. That’s how one of his confidantes, and one of mine, put it to me when I was tipped off on a Sunday night that the next morning he would announce a political action committee, presumably with an end-game at the White House.

Consistently Hickenlooper’s told us he would have Colorado on his mind until time runs out on his second and final term as governor in January. But it appears he will have Iowa and New Hampshire in his cranium, as well.

Other than its quirky name, the Giddy Up PAC wasn’t a big surprise, and, really, neither was the team behind it. All of them are wished-upon stars in the Hickenlooper galaxy.

> RELATED: Hickenlooper forms leadership PAC for potential run for president

Brad Komar,  leader of the PAC, ran Hickenlooper’s re-election campaign in 2014, then worked for Hillary Clinton and last year orchestrated a tremendous Democratic win in Virginia, when Ralph Northam beat former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie by nine points.

The other team members include Hickenlooper’s former and very excellent chief of staff Roxane White, as well as the governor’s former statehouse lawyer Stephanie Donner. There’s also former state Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio and Colorado cybersecurity executive Mark Turnage, who has an excellent personal reputation and knows how to tap big-dollar donors, I’m told by people who know these things.

Now, this might or might not be the nucleus of an eventual campaign team. Hickenlooper still has to officially get in the race. If I were running against this team in any race in Colorado, however, they would scare the political bejesus out of me.

Where’s it headed? “I don’t think he knows or that we know yet,” said White, whose new consulting firm is called Strategy with Rox.

Hickenlooper might simply help sway the Democratic ticket more toward his ideas and approaches in front of a presidential audience of candidates, voters and the press.

“I think more than ever there is a need and a desire for a common-sense, fair approach to balancing both sides and a lot of interest groups to come up solutions for our communities,” White told me. “I want to be a part of that message.”

Right now, however, Hickenlooper is out of step with his own party and the national political climate. The Democratic primary field is likely to offer a smorgasbord for the party’s base to feast on. Pass on Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism or Elizabeth Warren’s intent to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and you could partake the anti-gun messaging of former Republican Michael Bloomberg or an Obama-era throwback like Eric Holder or Joe Biden.

Hickenlooper has had his progressive moments that Republicans can cherry-pick, like the gun-control and civil-unions laws he signed in 2013. Overall, however, he is a moderate, and a moderate in national politics these days has as much of a chance as a sage grouse in a Wyoming oil field.

A former energy company geologist, Hickenlooper as governor has sought balance in how the oil and gas industry is regulated and allowed to prosper. That’s been an economic benefit to the state’s workforce, tax base and local communities. Hickenlooper would no doubt run on Colorado’s roaring economy, oiled with the profits of drilling and pumping.

He won’t or can’t evolve to the left on energy for the national stage.

“Anti-fracking has become religion for the Democratic Party,” Dick Wadhams, the national political consultant from Colorado, told me.

Hickenlooper is repulsed by political smears trying to land a biggest job in a town that runs on smears.

Democrats are hankering for a fight and their base wants a fighter to take down Donald Trump. Hickenlooper will have to show he’s just as mad. I can’t imagine him doing that. He’s more likely to play banjo and tell funny stories, which is why Coloradans, on the whole, love the guy.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, the first-term Republican from Yuma, is up for re-election in 2020. He shouldn’t sleep easy while Hick is making these moves.

I’ve said, literally, for years now that Hickenlooper would be a big-time Democrat who could be coaxed into putting the treasured seat Gardner took from Mark Udall in 2014 back into Democratic hands. Like Hickenlooper, Gardner is a gifted politician most Coloradans have good reason to like. On a personal level, he’s a bucket of sunshine.

The clock matters here. The morning after Election Day this November, top contenders to challenge Gardner will be snatching up talent and hitting up donors. If Hickenlooper settles on the Senate race, he can’t afford to play around with a fruitless presidential campaign too long.

None of us in Colorado’s chattering class buy for a second that he’s done with public service when his term expires in January — quite the opposite. As our governor might say, giddy up is the opposite of whoa. In the case of Hickenlooper, however, it gallops alongside maybe.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.