Hickenlooper and Inslee: What the Western governors have to offer in 2020

Getty Images

March is the month that comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. So far this month two Democratic presidential candidates, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado have roared into the presidential race. Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, businessman Michael Bloomberg and Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio have meekly opted out.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas wait in the wings while they take the political temperature before they brave the cold and icy winds of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Go West young man

There are six Democrats with experience in the Senate — Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — who are actual or potential presidential candidates. But the public hostility towards Washington D.C. means the further away you are from the nation’s capital you are, the better off you’ll be. So, the Democratic Party could do a lot worse than to nominate a candidate with service as a Western governor like Inslee or Hickenlooper of Colorado.

Sanders and Biden are frontrunners but both men are in their 70s and their long tenures in DC will be problems. Inslee (67) and Hickenlooper (68) are both younger, in their 60s. Hickenlooper doesn’t have any D.C. political experience and most of Inslee’s career has been outside the nation’s capital. Since both former governors have spent most of their political careers in their home states, they have mostly avoided the gladiatorial combat in D.C. that both intrigues and horrifies voters in the provinces.

Preisdent Obama was born in Hawaii but made his political bones in Illinois. Without Obama in the mix, the Democrats have never had a nominee from the west coast and the last time the party nominated a westerner was George McGovern in 1972. A presidential nomination for Inslee or Hickenlooper would be a refreshing change of pace for the party.

But out of sight of the nation’s capital is out of mind, and neither candidate, however attractive, has much name recognition.  They will need to distinguish themselves in a crowded Democratic presidential field.

Different trails to the same destination

There is something appropriate about the former governor of the Evergreen State carrying the environmental mantle in the presidential campaign. His announcement video shows Inslee discussing the urgency of climate change with clips from his tenure as a member of the Washington state and U.S. House of Representatives and while he served as governor.  

Inslee’s crusade against climate change is a good way to establish a niche in a crowded field but it also runs the risk of pigeonholing him as a single-issue candidate. He makes the case that fighting climate change is the key to solving the other big problems facing the nation. He may be right, but he needs to get his point across loud and clear.

Climate change is a vital issue but it’s not on top of the Democratic voter hit parade. Inslee is trying to make the case that climate change is the root of all evil —but the economy, guns and health care are all bigger issues for the Democrats who vote in Democratic primaries and attend caucuses.

He also needs to remember that people vote for people not policies in a presidential race. Bernie Sanders ran a single-issue race on income inequality in 2016 and voters never got to know him personally. This time, he’s focused more on telling his personal story which is what voters want to see and hear in a potential president who will need to tackle a broad range of issues in the White House.

A super PAC, Act on Climate, run by an Inslee political associate has already run a million dollars worth of TV ads for him nationally and in Iowa. This will certainly help a candidate who is in great need of name recognition, but it may also create a problem for Democrats who are skeptical of the power of big money in politics. Another Democratic presidential candidate, U. S. Senator Cory Booker faces the same dilemma

Both candidates are in their 60s and have served two terms as governors of western states. But there the similarities end.  While Inslee takes the ideological route to the White House, Hickenlooper hits the pragmatic path as a candidate with business experience who can work with politicians of both parties to get things done. 

Inslee is a career politician, but Hickenlooper was a successful businessman who founded his own brewery before serving two terms each as mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado.

With Starbucks’ Howard Schultz considering running as an independent and Michael Bloomberg deciding not to run, Hickenlooper could carve out his own niche as the successful businessman who turned to politics to bring order to the chaotic world of government. President Trump, however, may have spoiled the businessman turned politician model for most Americans.

Friday on “Morning Joe”, the former Rocky Mountain state governor discussed the need to bring Americans together. On the campaign trial, he points out his success working across party lines to get things done for Colorado. While a bipartisan mayor and governor might be an asset if he wins the nomination, it could be a liability with super charged partisan Democrats voting in primaries and caucuses

Thanks for playing

The title of Hickenlooper’s announcement video is “Stand Tall” and he is an imposing television presence. . Whether or not, he or Inslee can stand tall in a crowded Democratic field remains to be seen.

If Inslee and Hickenlooper don’t win the nomination, a vice presidential pairing with a presidential nominee out of the U.S. Senate would make a lot of sense. Hickenlooper more so than Inslee since Colorado is less predictably Democratic in the Electoral College than Washington. 

If one of the other Democratic candidates becomes president, either man could ably fill a cabinet level position.  Inslee’s focus on climate change would make him a logical choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Presidents often go west to find a secretary of the Interior, so Hickenlooper could easily fill that slot in a Democratic presidential administration.

A cabinet level position is a step down from the presidency. But high-level posts in a Democratic administration would allow Inslee and Hickenlooper to fight the good fight for the environment; an area that is desperately in need of attention after Donald Trump’s shameful abdication of the struggle against climate change.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics.

This is the fifth piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read his analysis on former Vice President Joe BidenSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former HUD Secretary Julian CastroSen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

–Updated at 12:35 p.m.

Tags 2020 Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Brad Bannon Cory Booker Democrats Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Kamala Harris Sherrod Brown

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video