Hickenlooper charms supporters with folksy plea for cooperation

DENVER– Fresh from a long weekend spent campaigning across the state, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper was energized last night at meet and greet at Hickenlooper Ground Zero: the Wynkoop Brewing Company, the Lower Downtown tavern that started it all. Hickenlooper lavished the crowd with the natural “aw shucks” everyman charm that GOP opponent former Congressman Scott McInnis and his supporters have been on and off preparing to battle in the weeks since Hickenlooper announced his candidacy.

Hatless Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper

Talking about opening the Wynkoop, he mused, “I couldn’t get my own mother to invest. She said, ‘Who would want to eat dinner in a brewery?’”

Hickenlooper was well received on the road, hitting towns large and small, but seemed especially at ease in the roomful of fans at the Wynkoop.

“When I’m in this building, really when I am in any restaurant, it is hard for me not to talk an extra four or five minutes because I know that if I can keep people in their seats for just another four minutes, they will probably order dessert, and that’s where the profit margin is.”

As governor, he said, it’s his business experience that sets him apart. Government can be more successful when it is collaborative.

“It’s not what people expect from government, but it is what they want.” He said his style of running a government is based on what he learned running a small business. The key to success is working with other businesses, he said.

On a visit to Leitner-Poma of America, a ski lift manufacturer located in Grand Junction, Hickenlooper said he asked where they got their steel and found out it came from Tennessee. “I asked if they had ever talked to the guys in Pueblo and they were like, ‘Oh, there’s a steel mill in Pueblo?’ so now they are talking.”

He said he also learned that Leitner-Poma was competing with an Austrian firm for the contract on a new lift at one of Colorado’s major ski areas. Hickenlooper said he called the ski area president and talked about the marketing advantages of being able to tell skiers that the new lift had been built in Colorado. “I mean how many skiers do they get from Austria?” he asked the crowd.

Hickenlooper acknowledged that he faces an uphill battle on fundraising.

“The Republicans have already raised more than a million dollars. We have the advantage of ideas. President Kennedy said that politics at its best is about ideas. That is the kind of campaign we want to run.”

He said he keeps hearing that the campaign is going to turn ugly but that he wants no part of such a campaign. He said that when he ran for mayor it was the first time he had ever run for office.

“I never even ran for student council. At our first campaign meeting, we had some smart people and they presented us with a budget of $600,000 that they said we had to raise to have a chance. There was a line in the budget for $50,000 that said O.R. Helen and I looked at each other and asked ‘What’s O.R.?’

“We were told that it stood for opposition research, money to dig into the past of anyone running against me so that we could go on TV and expose their bad behavior and increase my own name recognition. We looked at each other again and Helen leaned across the table and drew a red line through that and I was, like, ‘Well that’s $50,000 we don’t have to raise.’ We never did opposition research. We are just as committed to running a positive campaign this time.”

He said if the other side runs negative ads, he would try to respond with humor.

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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