DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper used his first event on his first trip to Iowa as a Democratic presidential candidate on Friday to question how legislative experience lends itself to being president, a not-so-subtle knock against the Senate Democrats running to take on President Donald Trump.
In a brief speech and question-and-answer session with voters at Confluence Brewery on Friday, Hickenlooper repeatedly returned to his theme that politicians in Washington do little to bring people together and are ill-equipped to lead the executive branch.
“People in Washington, they spend their time talking about things and debating and pointing fingers,” Hickenlooper told voters. “It’s about time to bring things together and get things done.”
In a conversation with reporters after his speech, Hickenlooper said experience running a business and running a state — two things he has done — “is going to be more successful in an executive position.”
“They call it the executive branch for a reason, right?” he asked rhetorically.
The comment is significant given that five senators, one member of Congress and one former member are running for president and a host of senators and representatives are considering getting into the race.
Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland have all announced 2020 bids. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has formed an exploratory committee and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Eric Swalwell of California, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas are all considering joining the race.
Hickenlooper has admitted that he is a longshot in the campaign. He and his team believe that his decades of executive experience — after running a successful brewpub, Hickenlooper served as mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado — set him apart from the more high-profile Democrats who are running, and it was clear on Friday that the governor will try to cast Washington as incompetent during his bid.
“I think in Washington there is too much attention paid — not just in the House and Senate, throughout Washington — on talk and here is what you should do or here is who is at fault, here is who is to blame,” Hickenlooper said.
He has also staked his campaign on a pledge to bring people together, a message he delivered during his official campaign kickoff Thursday in Denver.
“We are in a crisis. It is a national crisis of division, and we probably have never been this divided since the Civil War,” he said, adding that people “fight over everything” and always “blame somebody or fight against somebody else.”
A key problem for the governor: Many Democrats are hungry to beat Republicans, not work with them.
Hickenlooper said Friday that he tries to “listen and find out where that is coming from” but that he doesn’t think the way to beat Trump is to pledge acrimony toward the other party. To prove his point, Hickenlooper told voters that one of his first meetings as president would be with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, even though he represents the opposing party.
Trump’s presidency “makes me angry. It makes me furious,” Hickenlooper said. “What I am saying is we got to this point that we elected someone like Donald Trump President because we did not take care of the divisive rhetoric. … I don’t see another way to resolve it except to get people to start working together, and that means Republicans and Democrats. I realize it is not very popular, but I think there is a quiet majority out there who understands we have to fix the system and the system is Washington is broken.”