After months of threatening to actually run for Governor, Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne has apparently decided that she is really, seriously, truly going to be a candidate in 2018. As John Frank reports for the Denver Post, Lynne will formally launch her campaign for John Hickenlooper’s third term in office on Thursday:
Asked about the campaign, Hickenlooper seeks to appear impartial, but his enthusiasm for Lynne is most evident. At a recent Politico event in Denver, he gave positive marks to all the top candidates, but he gushed about Lynne, a former Kaiser Permanente executive who serves as his chief operating officer and point person on health care issues.
“I do think she is a remarkably talented person, and if she were to run and to win, she would be a great governor,” he said.
And Hickenlooper is cognizant about what his words mean. “The last thing she needs is for everyone to say, ‘The governor is trying to get her elected’ or ‘pushing her out there to do this.’ ”
But Lynne embraces the connection. She’s essentially framing her bid as “Hickenlooper, Part II.”
“I think the transition from Gov. Hickenlooper, who has a great legacy, to someone who has been at his side, who has dealt every single day with a variety of issues, is a distinguishing characteristic,” Lynne said in a recent interview. “We need a steady hand on the wheel.” [Pols emphasis]
Hickenlooper seems pretty well-ensconced behind Lynne’s candidacy, which is a noticeable shift from his position two years ago. When Lynne was selected as LG in March 2016, she insisted that she would not be a candidate for Governor in 2018. This was in line with Hickenlooper’s public position as he assessed potential successors to Lieutenant Gov. Joe Garcia, who left in late 2015 to take a job with an education nonprofit; Hickenlooper had been clear that he didn’t want to nominate someone with ambitions to seek the top job later.
While it is obvious that Hickenlooper will not be shy about backing Lynne in 2018, it’s far from clear that this will be a significant advantage for the Lite Gov. in a Democratic Primary. As Frank notes in his story for the Post:
What Lynne needs most is help raising money, particularly from small donors and a boost in name recognition among Democrats. But this is where Hickenlooper’s clout may have limits.
Unlike other elected officials, he, while in office, has not maintained an extensive email list of supporters that he can pass to Lynne, nor did he cultivate party activists, given he twice ran unopposed for the party nomination. Now, the bipartisan coalition of business leaders that he created in his successful campaigns is fracturing.
Hickenlooper’s campaign fundraiser, Rick Sapkin, and two close associates and GOP donors, Greg Maffei and Larry Mizel, are major contributors to a Republican super PAC that is expected to support state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.
When Hickenlooper ran for Governor in 2010, his positioning as a centrist businessman — along with a train wreck of a Republican ticket — allowed him to maintain the support of folks like Maffei and Mizel and helped him coast to an easy victory (Hick kept that coalition largely intact in his 2014 re-election bid). While he never shied away from the “D” that followed his name on the ballot, it wasn’t until the 2016 election cycle that Hickenlooper started to act more like the top elected Democrat in the state. Hick was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign and actively campaigned on behalf of many Democratic candidates running for seats in the state legislature.
The reason Hickenlooper’s backing of Lynne may not be much of a factor in 2018 is the same reason why we’ve never really believed any of the rumors that Hick might run for President some day: He doesn’t have a robust Democratic base of support. Prior to 2016, Hickenlooper showed little interest in party politics, and as Frank points out above, his political operation never made much of an effort to establish a connection with active Democrats.
Lynne’s apparent plan to position herself as a continuation of the Hickenlooper era won’t likely resonate with Democrats who don’t know much about her and don’t have a real connection to the Governor. If Lynne is going to scrape out a following that can carry her through the Primary next June, she’s going to have to forge her own path.