WASHINGTON — John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado and the latest entrant in the Democratic race for president, credits growing up on Philadelphia’s Main Line for the pragmatic approach he has brought to business and politics.
“My great-grandparents were Quakers. And I tried to take that ethic into business. Quaker honesty, Quaker mindfulness, that effort to build community across differences. ... I get that from my Philly background,” he told the Inquirer in 2010.
Hickenlooper, a native of Narberth who went to the Haverford School, adds a new wrinkle to the primary contest. He’s a moderate white male in a field that has largely been defined so far by candidates who are women, people of color, and liberal.
In a contrast with the crowd of senators running on big, ideological promises, Hickenlooper’s launch video early Monday emphasized the practical aspects of his work, touting his collaboration with a divided legislature in a swing state, and pointing to his leadership during droughts, floods and the mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.
“I’m running for president because we need dreamers in Washington, but we also need to get things done," Hickenlooper, 67, said in the video. "I’ve proven again and again I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver.”
Hickenlooper, who has made his geeky looks and everyman style a central part of his political persona, also talked in the video about the frustration of being laid off from his job as an oil-industry geologist, and how he then created a successful brewpub in Denver in the late 1980s. He was elected mayor in 2003 and served two terms.
Many Democrats, especially among donors and political elders, argue that a more moderate approach is vital to winning key swing states, including Pennsylvania, and defeating President Donald Trump. They have worried about the leftward pull exerted by many of the early candidates. Hickenlooper, however, may face challenges in trying to match the star power of the better-known rivals already in the mix, and in exciting a liberal base pushing for fresh faces and a bold agenda.
He has called on his Philadelphia roots as he mulled his campaign, and in the last several months he has visited major Philadelphia fund-raisers and spoken at a public event hosted by the Committee of Seventy.
Hickenlooper can trace family ties back to Robert Morris, the financier of the American Revolution whose statue stands by Independence Mall. He graduated from Wesleyan University and made his way to Colorado to work as a geologist.
Hickenlooper’s entry may be part of a wave of Democratic candidates representing more centrist viewpoints than many of the senators who have dominated the early campaigning.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) has presented herself as a pragmatist, and Democrats are still waiting on decisions from former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, among others, each of whom may compete for more moderate voters as the party debates the best way to take on Trump.