Hickenlooper & Inslee:
Former Governor & Governor
Join Democratic Presidential Fray

By Jim Ellis

Left: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (Photo, Moritz Hager) Right: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

March 6, 2019 — Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joined the Democratic presidential field over the weekend, following Washington Gov. Jay Inslee who jumped in last Friday. The pair became the 12th and 13th official Democratic presidential candidates, and the first governor and former governor to join the campaign.

But what are the paths to actual nomination for each man? Neither has high national name identification and both are from states moderate in size: Washington has 107 total Democratic National Convention delegates, and Colorado 80. This places them as the 14th and 17th largest states among the 57 voting entities that will comprise the Democratic delegate pool.

It’s hard to see a viable way to the nomination for Gov. Inslee. Without a strong geographical base or high name ID, the two-term Pacific Northwest governor is attempting to carve a niche for himself as the climate change candidate, but that is a space already heavily populated. Sen. Bernie Sanders in particular stresses the climate change issues as part of his portfolio, as do most of the other candidates at least to a degree.

It’s possible Inslee also doesn’t see much of a path for himself, which explains why he answered so vociferously that he is not ruling out running for a third term in his present position when asked during his announcement event. With almost two-thirds of the bound delegate votes likely being decided on or before March 17, 2020, Inslee will have plenty of time to pivot back into a governor’s race because the Washington candidate filing deadline doesn’t elapse until May of that year.

Inslee’s main hope in the presidential campaign is to score big in the early debates and begin to cobble together support as a non-Washington, DC candidate with strong experience as a governor. Even that, however, might be difficult for him to sell since, politically, he originally came from Congress.

Jay Inslee was first elected to the US House in 1992 from the central Washington 4th District. But he lost re-election in the 1994 Republican wave. He returned to the House in the 1998 election after moving to the 1st District, which, at the time, was a seat largely in the Seattle metropolitan area. He remained in Congress until running successfully for governor in 2012 and won re-election in 2016.

Former Gov. Hickenlooper was ineligible to seek a third term in 2018, thus completing his eight-year tenure as Colorado’s chief executive. Prior to winning statewide, he served two terms as Denver mayor where he was known as an innovative chief executive.

Though strongly liberal on social issues, he describes himself as a “raging moderate” on economic concerns. He has solid experience as a successful businessman, owning restaurant establishments in Denver’s revitalized downtown section. This type of experience could allow him to forge a path toward the center of the Democratic electorate, a place where the numbers could favor him especially if former Vice President Joe Biden decides not to become a candidate.

Right after the midterm election, a Gallup poll (Nov. 13-18; 1,499 US adults) found that 54 percent of the national Democratic electorate believes the party should move toward the moderate realm, whereas 41 percent believes it should become even more liberal. But, virtually all of the other dozen candidates are attempting to secure the left base.

The leftward lurch from almost all of the contenders in part relates to the nomination rules. With only elected delegates voting on the first ballot, and those elected likely being ideological activists, these individuals could be a deciding factor in who comes through the huge field especially if the convention is required to conduct multiple voting roll calls. Such an occurrence appears highly possible right now.

Hickenlooper and Inslee are likely both second tier candidates, but in every crowded presidential field someone from the lower level surges to the top. Could lightning strike in positive fashion for one of these two governors? We might only have to wait until June to see if such a glimmer exists. That’s when the first Democratic presidential debate will be scheduled.

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