Littwin: What are the chances a pro-business moderate can win a Dem gov primary in 2018?

Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne

I just read Corey Hutchins’ sit-down with Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne on her decision to run for the Democratic nomination for governor. And I’m confused about a few things.

Like, why is she running?

And why does she think she can win?

The center of the Democratic Party has moved decidedly left, and for most candidates in the Democratic primary, the tricky part is angling to win enough of the Bernie vote while staying close enough to the center to win in the general election. Lynne, meanwhile, is running as a pro-business moderate whose principal credentials include senior Kaiser health insurance executive and senior adviser to Rudy Guiliani when he was America’s mayor. Yes, that Rudy Guiliani.

A quick look at her schedule showed a speaking engagement at an Anadarko Women in Philanthropy breakfast. Let’s just say that the oil-and-gas giant’s headquarters is the kind of place progressive Democrats picket, not where they stop in for farm-to-table bacon and eggs.

And if you need any more evidence on where the race is heading, Cary Kennedy just went big on health care, proposing a public-option, Medicaid-for-all plan that, she says, would particularly help those with few options in rural Colorado. Jared Polis has already come out for a Medicare-for-all on the federal level. We’ll see what Mike Johnston does now.

No one in the field can match Lynne on experience in the health care field. But she said she was opposed to the public option when Barack Obama was trying to push that through during the Obamacare debates. It’s starting to look as Medicare for All — or at least Medicare for Most — will be a serious Democratic position.

Bernie Sanders is proposing a single-payer plan in the Senate, which, of course, has no chance to go anywhere today. But potential presidential contenders are rushing to sign up as co-sponsors. Even West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, has said it’s time to look at single payer. We’ll see where Michael Bennet, who did favor the public option back in the day, goes. He has said he opposes single-payer but does support expanding both Medicare and Medicaid.

Where does Lynne fit into all that? Or does she fit at all?

The consensus among Democrats I talk to is that John Hickenlooper was so impressed by Lynne’s tenure as lieutenant governor that he pushed her into the race, but I think that’s probably unfair to Lynne. She is an accomplished and experienced person in her own right and may not have needed much pushing. In any case, they both seemed ready to ignore the fact that when Hickenlooper nominated her last year, Lynne insisted she had no intention to run for governor in 2018. In other words, she begins her political career by breaking a non-campaign promise.

But if a non-politician at the time of her appointment, I guess it’s fair to say she has transitioned quickly. And now she has to figure out how to simultaneously embrace Hickenlooper (who will presumably be supporting her behind the scenes) and declare herself independent of him (because you generally don’t win running for somebody else’s third term).

So far, she has gotten the embrace part down, but the independence is a work in progress.

But whether or not Lynne is running as Hickenlooper 2.0 — she says she’s not, even as she told Hutchins she couldn’t think of a single issue on which she differed from Hick — the question for Lynne is whether now is the time for a Hick without the quirkiness. It’s not Hickenlooper’s policy chops that got him where he is, after all. Without the quirks — I mean, is Lynne going to shower vs. mudslinging ads? Is she going to drink fracking fluid in support of, well, fracking? — Hick would presumably still be a geologist.

When asked what it means to be a Democrat in Colorado, she told Hutchins she thought it meant social justice and equality. She added this: “I think it’s also being sensitive to what is making our economy strong— we have a strong jobs economy— and we’ve got to be sensitive to the needs of the business community as well when it comes to some of the issues that I think are complicated for us like healthcare.”

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with opening your campaign by calling for the need for sensitivity to the business community, I guess, unless, that is, you’re running for governor in a Democratic primary.

It was already a crowded field. Polis, who, as we know, can self-fund, is generally thought to be the favorite. Ed Perlmutter was the favorite, but he dropped out after deciding he couldn’t, or didn’t want to, compete with Polis’ money. Johnston and Kennedy, who have both had their eyes on this race for a long time, can raise the money to be be competitive. Businessman Noel Ginsburg is another contender for the pro-business-moderate slot.

Where Lynne can find some hope is in the modern trend in Colorado politics of electing moderate Democrats — Hickenlooper, Bennet, Ritter, Salazar — to the top statewide offices. Cory Gardner is the only Republican who has won a top-of-the-ballot race in Colorado since 2004.

But while Colorado remains a moderate swing state, none of those Democrats ever had to run in a primary like the one Lynne is facing today. After all, in the days of Donald Trump, there is very little middle ground.


Photo by Marianne Goodland