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Blog: Following two Colorado guys who are maybe, probably running for president

9NEWS Political Reporter Marshall Zelinger and Photojournalist Corky Scholl have traveled across the country to follow behind two guys who are making their way across Iowa, but are totally not running for president (yet): former Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet.

KUSA - 9NEWS Political Reporter Marshall Zelinger and Photojournalist Corky Scholl have traveled far and wide to follow behind two guys who are making their way across Iowa, but are totally not running for president (yet): former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D).

We'll be checking in with them over the next few days on TV but follow along here for Marshall's latest updates:

6:59 p.m. CST: His speech is over. Hickenlooper got a hefty round of applause from the Ames, Iowa crowd. If they didn't know who he was before this, they certainly know him now. And just like Harris. He's outta here.

6:58 p.m. CST: Hickenlooper likes to tell a joke that ends with a student being asked "what's the opposite of woe" and the student says, "Giddy up!" And SOMEONE BEAT HIM TO THE PUNCH LINE! He still got plenty of laughs and admitted it's a bad joke.

6:53 p.m. CST: Hickenlooper gets a pretty decent applause when he brought up passing and signing the magazine capacity limit from 2013. The idea resonated with the central Iowa Democratic crowd. Colorado's limit on magazines holding fewer than 15 bullets resulted in two Democratic lawmakers getting recalled and one resigning before the recall could happen. 

6:46 p.m. CST: Weird moment. Hickenlooper brings up FasTracks and gets applause from one person sitting near the front. FasTracks was the project that expanded light rail, commuter rail and bus service for RTD. Clearly, the person applauding is not a Boulder resident, since you know, they're still waiting for that commuter rail that they thought they were getting.

6:37 p.m. CST: "I'm not going to lay into President Trump...right off the bat."

6:35 p.m. CST: Hickenlooper takes the stage at the soup dinner.

6:17 p.m. CST: Harris finishes her speech and walks down the side right past my spot, takes a group photo with some supporters and leaves. Sorry Hick, mic drop.

6:11 p.m. CST: In her speech, Harris repeated the mantra, "speaking truth," but never called out President Trump by name.

6:07 p.m. CST: After first seeing the tweet by Denver Post reporter Nic Garcia, I can confirm that Hickenlooper did indeed eat soup at the soup dinner.

6:02 p.m. CST: California Sen. Kamala Harris is the first to take the stage at the Story County Democrats Soup Dinner.

3:25 p.m. CST: We were worried about the blizzard warning between Sioux City and Ames, yet arrived with no problem. We're the first media at the Story County Democrats Soup Dinner where Hickenlooper will speak, along with California Sen. Kamala Harris and Julian Castro, former HUD director under President Obama.

12:41 p.m. CST: Just passed through the town where everyone is smarter than you. Correctionville, Iowa.

12:20 p.m. CST: Favorite sign of the trip. Lawton, Iowa: "Hands down, the best town." As Corky said, "anoint them, no questions asked!"

10:13 a.m. CST: Hickenlooper starts with his familiar failed geologist, turned brewpub owner, turned accidental politician biography. It's really a quaint, funny story if you've never heard it. I've been covering Hickenlooper for about nine years.

10:11 a.m. CST: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is announced at the coffee shop.

10:07 a.m. CST: Just talked with Dennis. He's the guy wearing a Make America Great Again hat. He's also a regular. Told me he's open to changing his mind and is willing to listen to Hickenlooper.

9:40 a.m. CST: Walked right in and met a riot of a table. Loren and Zac are here with a group of friends. They're regulars at the coffee shop on a Saturday and not here because of Hickenlooper. They actually don't recognize him by name. "Sioux City is not a destination city," said Zac ."Iowa is not a destination state." When I told him he still hasn't announced his campaign for President, but this is his third visit, he said, "Why is this your third trip and you haven't announced yet?" They joked they would shake him down physically to get an answer out of him.

9:30 a.m .CST: We made it! Just that stretch of fog on I-80, but the rest of the trip was pretty smooth. We are 30 minutes early for Hickenlooper's visit to Pierce Street Coffee Works in Sioux City.

8:12 a.m. CST: Done with the I-80 west portion of the trip. 1:22 to go on I-680 north. Areas of low visibility with really dense fog, but overall so far, so good. Still nervous about the weather on drive back, but we’ll have six hours for what is a three-hour drive...and that’s part of the story.

6:37 a.m. CST: Kylie sent me Iowa weather reports and weather maps that don’t ease my mind, but are quite helpful. Blizzard warning will impact our drive back to Des Moines. The storm comes diagonally through our drive. 😬

6:31 a.m. CST: We agree if the weather gets squirrelly, we’ll turn back.

6:30 a.m. CST: After talking with Corky and wavering back-and-forth, we’re going. Traveling Iowa in this weather is part of Hickenlooper’s story. Plus, if we get trapped in NW Iowa, he’ll be trapped in NW Iowa, and if he’s trapped and we were waiting in Ames, we’d have nothing.

6:15 a.m. CST: Called 9NEWS for a weather check with meteorologist Kylie Bearse. She was recording a segment for online, so I chatted with Steve Staeger a bit. Wait, this is a blog, not a diary. So, Kylie went over the weather with me. We’re likely good to get to Sioux City. It’s the drive back that could be risky, with the blizzard warning and storm really impacting midday. The plan is to be at an event for former Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at 10 a.m. in Sioux City, do a brief one-on-one interview at 11 a.m. and then either follow him or head straight back to prepare for his big event in Ames (3 hours back) tonight. After talking with Kylie, I’m considering calling it and not going to Sioux City.

6:02 a.m. CST: Breakfast in the hotel lobby started at 6 a.,m. and somehow I’m the third person. It’s a Saturday morning people!? The Weather Channel is on and the coverage is Winter Storm Quiana, which is what Corky and I are worried about. Let me take this moment to rant that winter storms do not need names! It’s snow. It’s wind. It’s either snowing out or a blizzard. We don’t need to market a storm! While I’m ranting, the cereal options at this hotel are Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Fruit Loops and Raisin Bran. Iowa, we need to talk.

5:40 a.m. CST: In the words of Sonny Koufax (Adam Sandler in Big Daddy), “Alright, I’m up!”

5:05 a.m. CST: Corky is up early and texting me, which is fair because I was up late texting him. Who needs sleep? Weather is having us debate whether or not to make the 3-hour drive from Des Moines to Sioux Falls.

Start of Day 3 - Saturday


11:42 p.m. CST: Just tagged Hickenlooper in a tweet and it appears since my last tweet at 10:23 p.m. he switched from @hickforco to @hickenlooper. That, or my phone was slow to update a previous change?

10:40 p.m. CST: Calling it a night. Just watched the weather, where I was told we would have rain/ice tonight, heavy rain/thunderstorms tomorrow, snow tomorrow night and possibly 9 inches of snow between where we are now and where we need to meet former Gov. John Hicknenlooper in the morning. I sure hope our Hyundai Kona is channeling its inner Hawaii.

8:00 p.m. CST: Wasabi for dinner tonight. No, not just the spicy, burn your mouth green stuff. Well, that's part of dinner, but not all of dinner.

7:00 p.m. CST: What you don't get to see on TV. Just before I went live from the tavern Bennet had left about 45 minutes earlier, the waitress that was helping us out told me I couldn't swing open the barn door separating the bar from the secondary space. My plan was to show where Bennet hosted his meet-and-greet, and then revealing an active bar behind a sliding barn door. The patrons on the bar side either didn't know or didn't care a Colorado Senator was just next door. Why couldn't I slide the door? Turns out a guy drinking in his work shirt saw us practice what we were going to do (I slid the door open once just to make sure I could do it!) and he told the waitress he didn't want to be seen on camera drinking in his work shirt. I asked her if he'd be willing to turn his back or slide somewhere out of frame or...just not care since we're airing in Denver and not Des Moines. She came to me 30 seconds before I started talking and told me not to slide the door open. Ooph.

5:50 p.m CST: Bennet participates in a "scrum" with Des Moines media, CNN and NBC watching, as well as us! He said it would be "not months" when asked if his decision to run for President would be weeks or months. I heard "nine months," but it's a good thing I double-checked with Bennet afterwards. Someone asked why him. He said, "that's for voters to decide." He's on his way to another house party, but this is where we leave Bennet for this trip.

4:40 p.m. CST: I introduce myself to the CNN photographer. I noticed he was wearing the same bone conduction headphones I have. They sit on your jaw bone and keep your ears open, but you can hear the sound perfectly! Anyway, once he learns I’m from Denver, he asks, “you ever try the gummies?” Sigh.

4:15 p.m. CST: We've arrived at Bennet's first public event of Day 2: Doc's Lounge. The slogan of this place is "For whatever ales you."

2:45 p.m. CST: We made it to my town!!! Not really my town, but Marshalltown! Downtown Marshalltown is very much like a Salida-like downtown without the mountains and cuteness. Kind of like me.

1:30 p.m. CST: Just finished my one-on-one with Bennet. He gave a refreshing answer to my first question:
Me: "What is Colorado Senator Michael Bennet doing in Iowa?"
Bennet: "Visiting schools, what else would I be doing?"
Me: "Why are you in Iowa?"
Bennet: "I'm in Iowa because I'm thinking of running for President."

Other notable responses from our Q&A:
Me: "What was it like that moment -- that first time you ever said that to yourself, 'I'm thinking of running for President?'"
Bennet: "That is a great question. It was kind of bizarre, and I have to admit it's weird to think that you're in a position to be able to consider that or contemplate that."

Me: "Do more students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Iowa know your name than Thomas Jefferson in Denver?"
Bennet: "There's no question, I'm less well known here than I am at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, but I'm also not known there."

**Don't forget, Bennet was Denver Public Schools Superintendent before he was Senator.**

Me: "Are people saying, 'Who are you?'"
Bennet: "No, no, not a single person has asked me that."

**I've had more people tell me they didn't know Bennet before meeting him or learning he was going to be here, than those who did know him. And the majority of those who did know him, knew him from his dress down of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on the Senate floor on Jan. 24.**

Me: "Are we in Iowa, if not for your floor speech?"
Bennet: "No, I would have been here anyway. I think it's interesting to see how many people have seen that floor speech, but that's not why I came."
Me: "Finish this sentence: Success for you at the end of this weekend is…?"
Bennet: "Success at the end of the weekend for me is getting a sense of what is on Iowans minds. How are they thinking about the world? Where do they think we should be headed? And so far, I'm not surprised to learn that people seem to be thinking about the world an awful lot the same as they're thinking about it in Colorado."

12:50 p.m .CST: Just chatted with two students walking to their car in the parking lot. They saw us with our camera gear in the car and said, "You get paid to do this?" I let them know we were in a Hyundai Kona, after staying at a Hampton Inn and having had Chipotle for dinner the night before. They laughed and left. Did I impress them too much?

12:20 p.m. CST: Just drove past a construction site promoting Cedar Rapids townhomes for $385,000. Nowhere is safe.

12:05 p.m. CST: Bennet has left his Linn County Democrats visit and is heading to Thomas Jefferson High School. No, not that one, the Cedar Rapids one.

11:30 a.m. CST: Patron leaving Groundswell Cafe finds out we’re from Denver. Asks us...”you smoke the weed?” Sigh.

11:15 a.m. CST: Success on two fronts. Bennet has arrived, though no one was in the cafe for him to meet. And I got tickets to Dave!

11:00 a.m. CST: While waiting for Bennet to arrive, I'm multitasking. I'm eating a veggie omelet, starting to write my story for Next and trying to buy tickets to see Dave Matthews Band at Fiddler's Green in August. Don't @ me.

10:40 a.m. CST: The meeting is at Groundswell Cafe, a "pay it forward" cafe and shared working space. They recommend a 20 percent tip that will go to help pay for other people's meals if they can't afford the meal. Omelets are $8, don't mind if I do!

10:30 a.m. CST: We have arrived in downtown Cedar Rapids. Bennet will walk through a cafe to go to a meeting with Linn County Democrats.

9:00 a.m. CST: It's been real Dubuque. I enjoyed the four-foot snow drifts, but you can keep your fake Lucky Charms! 

7:30 a.m. CST: Wake up, open the blinds and have the sudden urge to buy a Lincoln and get a new windshield. Then again, there's a Lincoln dealership outside my window. Quick aside, my initials are MJZ. Lincoln makes an MKZ. If they made an MJZ, I'd be out $40k whether I could afford it or not.

START OF DAY 2 - Friday


8:15 p.m. CST: Party's over. Back at it tomorrow!

7:20 p.m. CST: Time for the question and answer portion of the evening. Someone asks Bennet what he'll do in his first 100 days as president. He says roll back the president's tax bill.

6:32 p.m. CST: Bennet arrives! He receives a button with his name and face on it from host Helen Varner. 

6:15 p.m. CST: We're inside the home of Helen Varner! Bennet is not here yet. The home has a small foyer to wipe your feet and then you can walk forward and down a step to enter the family room, with a gas fireplace and a TV, with a video clip ready to play. Which video? Bennet's viral speech to Sen. Ted Cruz is cued up! To the left of the entrance is a short skinny hallway that takes you to a kitchen, with mints on the counters and baked desserts ready to eat!

6:00 p.m. CST: Arrived at a random house party in Dubuque. It looks like any suburban home/street, U.S.A. except for the three-to-four feet piles of snow between the street and the sidewalk! Where is everyone going to park? How many people is everyone? This party is hosted by Democrat Helen Varner. I found out she has no connection to Bennet. They were connected by local party leaders. There's a sign outside the house welcoming Colorado's Senator. They even spelled his name with one T!

5:07 p.m. CST: Limited time to eat before Bennet's first event in Iowa. We're going to try this fast casual restaurant right outside our hotel. Not sure how it's pronounced, but the name is spelled Chipotle. *Save your 'you're gonna get sick' jokes.*

3:50 p.m. CST: Local radio station deejay ranting about drivers who don’t knock the snow off car roofs and windows and then having the wind dust the cars behind with said snow. Iowans share Coloradan problems.

2:20 p.m. CST: Hellllllllo Cedar Rapids. Actually, goodbye Cedar Rapids. We’re packing up our Hyundai Kona (never heard of one before) and driving 90 minutes to Dubuque (eastern Iowa) where Bennet will visit a house party (i.e. fundraiser) hosted by local Democrat organizer Helen Varner.

11:05 a.m. MST: Boarded flight with Nic Garcia from the Denver Post, who is on his third trip to shadow former Gov. John Hickenlooper, first trip to see Sen. Michael Bennet in Iowa.

10:40 a.m. MST: Made it through security and got to our gate on the B concourse. A gentle-voiced Kim Christiansen told us we had arrived on the train. Our excitement diminished as we walked past gates for Tokyo and Chicago to get to our Cedar Rapids flight.

9:45 a.m. MST: Arrived at DIA with photojournalist Corky Scholl. We checked a modest four bags and had to swap some weight between two to stay under 50 pounds. Security checkpoint estimated wait 20 mins.

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