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Hickenlooper booed in San Francisco for denouncing socialism

SAN FRANCISCO — Democratic activists booed former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperDemocrats frustrated, GOP jubilant in Senate fight Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  MORE (D) on Saturday after he warned party faithful about the perils of embracing socialism and socialist positions ahead of next year's presidential race.

Hickenlooper, a former governor of a purple state Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary and Chelsea Clinton to host series based on their book 'Gutsy Women' Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters Biden officially announces ex-Obama official Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE won by just 4.9 percentage points in 2016, said Republicans would use the Democratic flirtation with socialism to paint the entire party as outside the mainstream of the political spectrum.

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"If we want to beat Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer," Hickenlooper told delegates to the California Democratic Party convention.

Some delegates, meeting in perhaps the most liberal city in America, booed.

Hickenlooper, polling near the bottom of the 24-candidate Democratic field, anticipated the reaction. He amassed a centrist record as governor, working with a Republican-controlled legislature for most of his two terms in office, though he scored progressive wins in his final two years on the job after Democrats reclaimed control of the state House and Senate.

He said allowing Republicans to define the Democratic brand would hurt the party's chances of winning the White House in 2020.

"If we don't draw a clear distinction between Democrats and our candidates and socialism, the Republicans will paint us into a corner that we can't get out of," Hickenlooper told The Hill in an interview shortly after his speech. "Massive government expansions may not be strictly speaking socialism, but trust me: Republicans will make it seem like socialism. In places like Ohio and Michigan and North Carolina and Wisconsin, places we have to win to beat Trump, we'll be starting out ten yards behind."

"We need to be laser-focused on winning this election, and that's going to mean focusing on kitchen table programs that will actually improve people's quality of life," he said.

If he is included in the first Democratic presidential debate later this month in Miami, Hickenlooper is likely to portray himself as a pragmatic contrast to candidates who have positioned themselves much further to the left.

Hickenlooper has met one of the Democratic National Committee's two thresholds for being included in the debate after receiving at least 1 percent support in three public surveys.

He has not yet collected the 65,000 donors necessary to meet the second threshold. If more than 20 candidates qualify for the debates, those who have not met both thresholds risk missing out on the debate stage.