Eric Swalwell is out of the Democratic race. Yeah… who?
Frankly, I thought John Hickenlooper would be the first to go, but he’s sticking it out.
As one of two dozen Democrats vying for the party nomination, Hickenlooper’s struggle to make a dent is emblematic of how difficult it is for a candidate — even a well-regarded former governor of a pivotal state — to break through in a historically large field in which being a mild-mannered 67-year-old white man hasn’t been the best selling point.
In 2016, the buzz around Hickenlooper was loud enough that Hillary Clinton vetted him to be her running mate. But three years later, Hickenlooper often finds himself talking to voters who have no idea who he is. A columnist for the New Hampshire Union-Leader recently likened the efforts of Hickenlooper — a former brewery owner — to “a fledgling IPA fighting for a tap in the neighborhood bar.”
That was evident during a recent visit to the Foundry, a beer hall and distillery in West Des Moines, where patrons eyed him with mild curiosity. “You are who?” a man said as Hickenlooper wandered near the bar. Upon learning Hickenlooper was running for president, he replied, “There are so many of you.”
In Cresco, Iowa, where Hickenlooper spoke at a local Democratic Party gathering, a woman mistook the former governor for Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who is also running for president. “Two Coloradans,” the woman declared, as Hickenlooper walked away. “I can’t keep them straight.”
And he’s having the problem most one-man-bands have: keeping a staff or paying for them.
Hickenlooper’s road became even lonelier last week. Several top aides, including campaign manager Brad Komar, left the campaign or announced they would do so soon. Hickenlooper played down the departures, but a Democrat close to the campaign said the aides had urged him to drop his presidential bid and instead run for the Senate, which Hickenlooper refused to do.
In an interview, Hickenlooper, who has a sunny, glass-half-full disposition, professed optimism, acknowledging “challenges” but arguing that he has as much a chance as anyone to break out in a nomination battle that is still fluid, even though he’s polling at 1 percent or lower.
“I am not fraught with anxiety, at least not yet,” Hickenlooper said. “People underestimate me. They have always underestimated me.”
All he needs is one little spark, he argued. One brief moment.
Well, that’s a great attitude if you’re an actor (or a playwright): waiting for that one part, that one job, that one opportunity that will get you noticed, and from there on, it’s roses and rainbows, baby.
You have to admire his optimism and his drive; he’s going to make a great Secretary of the Interior for the next Democratic president. But his aides — or former aides — are right; he should be running for the Senate to beat Corey Gardner, the vulnerable Republican from Colorado. The next Democrat in the White House could be the greatest in a generation, but it won’t mean squat if the Senate is still run by descended-from-slave-owners Mitch McConnell and his fellow terrapins.
I am hoping that by Labor Day — or at least by Canadian Thanksgiving (October) — the 1%’ers like Steve Bullock and Kirsten Gillibrand will get the hint and let nature take her course. I’m sure they’re very nice people and have something to offer, but like we say in show business, you just ain’t got it. (Oh, and memo to Tom Steyer, who’s been clogging my in-box with pleas for money for Impeach Now: don’t run for president, I’m begging you. You’re embarrassing yourself.) The more people run for president, the more we’re going to see op-eds like this one from Henry Olsen in the WaPo about how Trump is going to win re-election. If that’s supposed to inspire Democrats to get fired up, all it really does is make them want to gargle anti-freeze; you know how they are.
I don’t know who the Democratic nominee will be — and neither do you, I’ll bet — but whoever they are, they will need lungs of leather, nerves of steel, and something ineffable that will catch with the electorate the same way that Barack Obama did; we won’t know it until we see it. And it hasn’t happened yet (although I’m sensing a glimmer of it from Mayor Pete, but that may be tribal). But it will. It has to.