AMES, Iowa — Former Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has a problem. And, as far as a potential presidential hopeful is concerned, it's one of the worst problems to have: outside of Colorado, he's relatively unknown.
During a trip to the first state to caucus during the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, Hickenlooper spoke at the Story County Democrats Soup Dinner Saturday evening in Ames, Iowa along with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) and former Housing and Urban Development secretary under Obama, Julian Castro. When it comes to "name recognition," Harris is easily the most well-known followed far behind by Castro and Hickenlooper (perhaps tied?).
Harris spoke first at the event, and after she was done she found a group of supporters, took a selfie and left. Hickenlooper would be next and Castro rounded out the speaking order.
If the potential 2020 Democratic field were a concert, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris are likely headliners - Castro, Hickenlooper and also-maybe-running-for-president U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) would be closer to openers. Harris and Castro have already declared. Hickenlooper and Bennet have not.
For Hickenlooper, the "unknown" thing is dogging him in the national press. In POLITICO, he's quoted as dismissing the idea he'll run for Senate against incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) instead of for president. POLITICO reports Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has reached out about the former Colorado governor running against Gardner.
Hickenlooper's presidential concerns and plans were given three lines near the bottom of the article.
In the Washington Post, Hickenlooper is painted as a part of the maybe-presidential crowd trying to convince Iowans to keep an open mind.
As far as national coverage of his multi-day trip to Iowa... that's it. If he was mentioned in another story, it would amount to lip service, merely listing Hick as one of the politicos visiting the all-important state. The most recent cover of time, showing a very crowded Democratic field peering into the Oval Office occupied by President Trump left out Bennet and Hickenlooper.
At a soup dinner in Ames, Hickenlooper ran through common fare for anyone familiar with Colorado politics during his speech to a crowded hall. After thanking those who organized the event, he opened the speech by admitting something.
"I'm not going to lay into President Trump... right off the bat," Hickenlooper said, channeling his well-known "nice guy" persona. "I had a rule when I was governor, which was five weeks ago, that I wouldn't let anyone in my office say his name."
He explained that's because you can't just mention Trump.
"Next thing you know, it's 20 minutes. It's 40 minutes. It's an hour - and you've done nothing but play into his hands," he continued.
In his speech, Hickenlooper went over the unconventional way he got into politics - from unemployed geologist to brewpub owner to Denver mayor to Colorado governor. Every step of the way, he pointed out how he constantly went across the aisle to make things work.
As a brewpub owner, he and other restaurants in LoDo went in together on an ad despite objections from his employees; he said eventually his business was able to expand. As Denver mayor, Hick reached out to the mayors in the city's suburbs and they all got to work on fixing the city's traffic.
Below is 9NEWS political guy Marshall Zelinger's take on Hickenlooper's decision to tout FasTracks as a positive:
"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."
When talking about his term as governor, Hickenlooper brought up his work with Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich to try and save the Affordable Care Act.
Hickenlooper also took a moment to state, in no uncertain terms, that he would not appear on a presidential ticket with Kasich.
The latter half of Hickenlooper's speech continued pushing the former Colorado governor's bipartisan and pragmatic chops. He referred to Congress as a group of dreamers while he saw himself more as a doer.
"I'm a doer," he said. "One thing that is different about me than just about anyone else running is I have a long and consistent record of being able to bring people together, get them to put down their weapons if they've been feuding and then find that common ground."
His statement received applause from the Democrats gathered in the room.
He also brought up the state's 2013 limit on gun magazines; they could only hold a maximum of 15 rounds. While that was well received by the Iowa crowd, the legislation resulted in two Democratic lawmakers in the state being recalled (one resigned before they could be recalled).
When he'd finished, Hickenlooper received resounding applause from the Ames crowd. If they didn't know who he was before, they do know.
9NEWS political reporter Marshall Zelinger contributed to this report.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS | Next with Kyle Clark