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TRAIL MIX | Is Colorado becoming the new Iowa?

Author: Ernest Luning - September 28, 2018 - Updated: October 15, 2018

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In just the last week, three potential Democratic 2020 presidential candidates have landed in Colorado, including one who lives here but spent much of the last week in other states.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder addresses the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Get used to it.

Not only is the field wide — more than 20 Democrats have either expressed interest in running or been the subject of what Art Buchwald used to call “the great mentioner” — but Colorado is likely to get more attention than it has in many a cycle.

That’s because the state’s voters two years ago approved creation of a presidential primary ahead of the next election. And while the primary’s precise date hasn’t been set yet — that’ll be up to whoever gets elected governor and secretary of state in November — it will likely fall in early March, right after traditional early primary and caucus states Iowa, New Hampshire, South Caroline and Nevada get to weigh in.

None of the Democrats who made public appearances in Colorado this week — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, term-limited Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who ran the Justice Department under President Barack Obama — has officially declared a run, but all three made political splashes.

Hickenlooper, the brewpub pioneer who in mid-September launched something called the Giddy Up PAC  — it’s named after the punchline to one of the governor’s signature jokes — appeared in Denver last Saturday night after campaigning in Georgia.

During the two public events on his schedule, Hickenlooper delivered remarks at the Great American Beer Festival and the Mental Health Colorado Tribute Celebration before heading to events in New York on Monday and then on to California and Texas this weekend. (Joey Bunch takes a closer look at Hickenlooper’s nascent not-quite campaign in this week’s Insights column, which will post at ColoradoPolitics.com on Monday.)

Holder, who heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was in Denver on Sept. 27 to throw his support behind Amendments Y and Z, a pair of bipartisan ballot proposals that would revamp how the state handles legislative and congressional redistricting.

He appeared at a panel discussion on voting rights in Denver’s Five Points with Democratic secretary of state candidate Jena Griswold and former U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and later attended a fundraiser for Democratic state Senate candidates at a downtown law firm.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaks to reporters during a break from testimony by Christine Blasey Ford on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Klobuchar, a former prosecutor running for her third term in the Senate, headlined the Denver Democratic Party’s sold-out Edward M. Kennedy dinner, an annual fundraiser held Sept. 22 at the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, right across the street from the beer festival where Hickenlooper had just spoken.

She was probably the least well known of the three, at least until her confrontation over drinking habits with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during the latter’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27. But during her Colorado stop a few days earlier, by the time she finished a brisk 40-minute keynote address, Denver Democrats were on their feet applauding, and more than a few were mouthing “wow!” across the room to each other.

Klobuchar began her remarks by recalling past visits to Colorado, including her encounter with a spicy pepper — “We don’t have peppers that hot in Minnesota,” she said, wincing — at a dinner with the family of her Colorado colleague, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who introduced her at the fundraiser.

She also reminisced about making the national news as she traveled across the state on a three-day bus tour for the Obama campaign in 2008, and the time Bennet’s predecessor, then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, was at the wheel when the state patrol pulled them over because a sticker had fallen off the bus’ license plate.

The gist of her speech, though, was framed around a question she said her daughter posed on election night two years ago after Donald Trump upset predictions and won the White House: “Mom, what do we do now?”

And that’s when the Democrats in the room weren’t just laughing along with her, they were leaning forward and nodding.

“You know what?” Klobuchar said. “Our country has been through so many tough times before. We have been through injustices, discrimination, we have been through financial crises, we have been through major wars, deep-seated despair. But through it all, we have always come out the other side, and we will do it again.”

Every day, she said, she asks, “’What do we do now?’ If we answer that with apathy, if we answer that with cynicism, if we just pull the blanket over our head every time we see a mean tweet, that’s not going to work. We have to answer it with action; and that is how we’re going to win.”

After running through a dozen issues, from the effect of tariffs on Midwest farmers to what she termed the economic argument for immigration, Klobuchar brought the audience to its feet with her description of the upcoming Nov. 6 election, which she noted will fall on the 655th day of the Trump administration.

“And on that day, with the wind at our back, we are going to send a clear message: We are not just resisting, we are insisting on a better way forward for the United States of America. Because while that man in the White House sees dark every time he looks out the window, we see light. We see people standing up and speaking out for the first time or maybe the 50th time. We see potential, we see promise.”

Then, reminding the crowd she hails from Minnesota, home to Hubert Humphrey, who championed the politics of joy, she urged the Democrats to “approach this with joy.”

“This is literally a moment of joy, because we are going to show these guys what America is about. We are going to leave no one behind, and we are going to win.”

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.