Hickenlooper takes turn on DNC stage

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Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Enlargephoto

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was one of those rare occasions that called for a tie.

Gov. John Hickenlooper took his turn on stage Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention. But he spent all day before the speech trying to shift the spotlight away from himself and onto President Barack Obama.

“It really is about the president. This isn’t my chance to make a name for myself. I’ll tell my story, but only so much as it takes to establish my credibility that I know something about business, and my opinion that he is supportive of business matters,” Hickenlooper said in an afternoon interview.

That meant that for the national television cameras, the governor would give up his preferred no-necktie image in favor of the buttoned-up affair of Obama’s convention.

The president’s campaign turned to Hickenlooper, a self-made millionaire, to boost Obama’s credibility with business in the face of constant attacks from Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Hickenlooper also paid credit to Colorado Republicans.

“I’m luckier than President Obama. After my inauguration, Colorado’s Republican legislators didn’t immediately start planning my defeat. We worked together,” he said in his speech.

Last week’s Republican National Convention hammered on Obama for telling entrepreneurs that their businesses rely on public goods like education and roads. “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that,” Obama said at a campaign stop in July.

Nearly every Republican speaker last week repeated the “you didn’t build that” quote in some form.

Hickenlooper replied to it Wednesday by talking about all the help he had in building the brewpub he started after he was laid off from an oil company.

“It was ‘we,’ not just ‘me,’” he said.

Hickenlooper also asserted that the country is indeed better off than it was four years ago, when the economy was in a “freefall.”

Republicans took exception with that remark.

“With the national debt reaching $16 trillion, higher gas prices and the number of Americans on food stamps hitting a record high, Coloradans know they are not better off than when President Obama took office,” said Ellie Wallace, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, in a prepared statement.

Hickenlooper and his staff wrote and rewrote several versions of the speech. Obama’s campaign looked it over but did not add anything, he said.

Applause for Hickenlooper was muted compared to the speaker who followed him, Sister Simone Campbell. And some television channels did not carry his speech.

Despite Hickenlooper’s insistence that this is Obama’s week, political mavens scrutinize convention speakers for possible players in future political races. Eight years ago, an obscure Illinois state senator delivered a speech that catapulted him into the White House in 2008.

People are already scouting the field for 2016, and Hickenlooper is one of the five most popular governors in the country, according to surveys Public Policy Polling has taken this year, said Dustin Ingalls, the firm’s assistant director.

PPP has tested 2016 contenders in Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida, but it has not included Hickenlooper’s name in the polls,

“If I had to guess, he’s probably not that well known. But because of his popularity in Colorado, he has the potential to up his name I.D. and be in the conversation for 2016 if he wants,” Ingalls said.

Hickenlooper insists he doesn’t want it.

Other ambitious governors have started political action committees and are courting delegates in key states, Hickenlooper said, while he hasn’t done any of that.

Calls to all four early primary and caucus states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — confirmed that Hickenlooper did not attend their events in Charlotte.

“If you want to make Colorado the state that solves education reform, that gets a handle on controlling costs in health care, if you want to make Colorado the state that really figures out how you support your business community to create jobs, you can’t be running around the country giving speeches all the time and thinking about four years from now,” Hickenlooper said.

But Colorado’s governor is still a hot commodity in Charlotte. He conducted nearly two dozen interviews Wednesday and attended fundraisers for the Democratic candidate for North Carolina governor and for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

joeh@cortezjournal.com