- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper jumped into the Colorado governor’s race Tuesday, an unsurprising decision that immediately made him the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee.

He made his announcement on the steps of the state Capitol, flanked by his wife, Helen Thorpe, and surrounded by top Democrats. Also in attendance was Gov. Bill Ritter, who unexpectedly dropped out of the race last week and hugged Mr. Hickenlooper shortly before his speech.

Mr. Hickenlooper, who turns 58 next month, said he wanted to run because “it is a privilege to live in Colorado,” citing the longtime motto of the Denver Post.

“Some might argue that this is the worst time to run for governor, given the challenges facing the state,” said Mr. Hickenlooper. “We are, after all, in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. But I love Colorado every bit as much as I love Denver.”

He retold the story of how he was laid off from his job as a geologist after oil prices collapsed in the mid-1980s, and decided with his partners to open a brewpub in Denver’s depressed warehouse district. That pub became Wynkoop’s Brewing Company, and helped spark an economic renaissance in the city’s Lower Downtown, known as LoDo.

“I don’t just talk about creating jobs. I have created jobs,” said Mr. Hickenlooper.

He went on to open more restaurants in Denver, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins before running for mayor in 2003. He was elected to a second term in 2007 with 87 percent of the vote.

The mayor said he would remain in office during the campaign, saying that it didn’t make sense to put the city through the cost and turmoil of a special election. He said he would remain involved in governing the city, but that he’s assembled a team that can run day-to-day operations effectively in his absence.

Mr. Hickenlooper’s candidacy fills a void left by Mr. Ritter, who said Thursday he would not seek a second term in order to spend more time with his family. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former Democratic senator, declined to run for the party’s nomination, opting to remain in President Obama’s Cabinet.

That left Mr. Hickenlooper the obvious candidate for the job. He weighed a gubernatorial run four years ago, but hadn’t yet finished his first term as mayor.

“Once Salazar decided not to run, Hickenlooper was the logical choice,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. “In Denver, he’s accomplished much of what he needed to do and much of what he wanted to do.”

The race is expected to boil down to a contest between Mr. Hickenlooper and former Rep. Scott McInnis, the presumptive Republican nominee. Businessman Dan Maes is also seeking the Republican nomination.

An early Rasmussen Reports poll showed Mr. Hickenlooper running a few points ahead of Mr. McInnis. While he’s never run for office outside of Denver, the tall, lanky mayor said he’s familiar with the much of the rest of the state owing to his work as a geologist.

While Mr. Hickenlooper enjoys a positive image, analysts point out that he’s never had to grapple with the kinds of wedge issues that often divide voters. Although he’s a Democrat, Mr. Hickenlooper also is seen as more independent than many politicians, in part because the office of mayor is a nonpartisan post.

“He starts the race with a little extra push because he hasn’t been seen as that partisan,” said Mr. Ciruli.

Mr. Hickenlooper didn’t delve Tuesday into the specifics of any issues, but he did say he wouldn’t morph into a different kind of politician now that he’s running as a Democrat.

“I don’t plan on compromising my independent streak, and my approach to issues may be somewhat different,” he said.

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