John Hickenlooper
Courtesy of John Hickenlooper
John Hickenlooper
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Denver CNN —  

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday announced he is running for president, launching a 2020 campaign in which he will lean on his Western roots and decades of executive experience.

He made the announcement in a video titled “Standing Tall,” which tracks Hickenlooper’s life from laid-off geologist, to owner of a brew pub, to mayor of Denver and to governor, and touts the Democrat’s experience in a variety of fields as a key reason he should be the person to take on President Donald Trump in 2020. Hickenlooper casts the President as a “bully” in the more than two-minute video.

“I’m running for president because we’re facing a crisis that threatens everything we stand for,” Hickenlooper says in the video as images of Trump play. “As a skinny kid with coke bottle glasses and a funny last name, I’ve stood up to my fair share of bullies.”

He adds: “I’m running for president because we need dreamers in Washington but we also need to get things done. I’ve proven again and again I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver.”

Hickenlooper is the second governor to enter the crowded 2020 race after Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee announced a run last week. The field of Democrats is now at 14 candidates, including six senators.

Hickenlooper will follow up the video with an appearance on Good Morning America on Monday.

He will then headline a “hometown send-off” in Denver on Thursday at the city’s Civic Center Park. Hickenlooper will be joined at the event by Colorado leaders throughout his time in the state, as well as Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, a band based in Denver.

Hickenlooper will then make his first post-announcement trip to Iowa on March 8 and March 9. He will then cap his announcement week with an appearance at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Hickenlooper has been teasing a 2020 run for months, telling CNN in January that he would bet on the fact that he was going to run for President.

“I’ve been known to play a little cards,” Hickenlooper said during the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. “Given that there is still uncertainty in the future, I probably would take the bet that I would run for President.”

His political action committee – Giddy Up PAC – also staffed up earlier this year by hiring senior communications adviser Marie Logsden, finance director Dan Sorenson and adding foreign policy adviser Jeremy Rosner to a committee that already includes Brad Komar, Hickenlooper’s 2014 campaign manager and someone who would likely assume a senior role in a presidential bid. And the committee has been flying prospective campaign aides to Denver for interviews with the governor.

Hickenlooper is seen as a dark horse for the presidency, in part because he doesn’t have the national profile of other Democratic candidates, but he and his team hope that his record of achievement in Colorado, including his ability to work with Republicans, will set him apart.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1952, Hickenlooper attended Wesleyan University, where he received a master’s degree in geology. The field brought him to Colorado, where he worked for in Buckhorn Petroleum, but a downturn in the industry in the 80s led him to be laid off.

During his unemployment, Hickenlooper traveled to California, saw a brewpub in Oakland and thought that concept would work in Denver. It led him to open Wynkoop Brewing Company in 1988, a large brewpub that went on to help reinvigorate the LoDo area of Denver and made Hickenlooper a wealthy man with enough money to fund, invest and run breweries across the country.

The success of Wynkoop – and Hickenlooper’s connections to Denver that grew out of that – led him to successfully run for mayor of Denver in 2003, a position he held for eight years before serving two terms as Colorado’s governor from 2011 to 2019. The governor’s electoral history includes winning re-election in 2014, an election cycle that saw a number of Democrats lose their jobs.

Hickenlooper’s eight years as governor were defined by a series of tragedies, namely catastrophic wildfires and floods in 2013 and the 2012 shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 people dead. And the former mayor spent considerable time working with Republicans in the state to pass methane gas regulations and expand Medicaid.

“Some of his biggest supporters have been prominent statewide Republicans,” said Max Potter, Hickenlooper’s former senior media advisor and speechwriter.

That ability to appeal to Republicans has led Hickenlooper to have a national reputation as a moderate executive.

“What John brings to the table may not ‘excite’ the Ocasio-Cortez base,” Potter said, referencing the liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, “but what it should excite is the chance for a Democratic party to beat Donald Trump”

Floyd Ciruli, an independent pollster in Colorado and the professor of Public Opinion and Foreign Policy at the University of Denver, said that centrist reputation could be an issue in a Democratic primary.

“If these voters were unaffiliated or independent then he’d have a much easier time,” Ciruli said. “The worst time he ever had in his life was when he went far to the left.”

Democrats in Washington and in Colorado have pushed Hickenlooper to challenge Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who is up for reelection in 2020. But Hickenlooper had said he dreaded the idea of being a legislator after years as an executive.

Far from a liberal firebrand, Hickenlooper believes that there is a portion of the Democratic primary electorate that is hungry for someone who is able to defeat Trump without getting into the gutter with him.

“I think there is a silent majority,” Hickenlooper told CNN in January, “a new silent majority that wants to elect people that get stuff done, stop fighting, stop hurling invective and roll up their sleeves and start working together.”