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Former Gov. John Hickenlooper arrives with his wife Robin Pringle Hickenlooper, right, and son Teddy at the inauguration ceremony for Gov. Jared Polis in January 2019. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

John Hickenlooper announced his long-expected bid for president on Monday by touting his record of accomplishments in Colorado and pledging to “repair the damage done to our country.”

“I’m running for president because we are facing a crisis that threatens everything we stand for,” the former Democratic governor says in a campaign video shot at Red Rocks Park.

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The 67-year-old former brewpub owner turned politician invoked the tragedies that marked his first-term as governor — the wildfires, the historic floods and the Aurora theater shooting — and his efforts to address health care, the economy, climate change and gun control. 

YouTube video

The 2020 campaign rollout is designed to highlight accomplishments that appeal to the party’s liberal base at the same time he sets himself apart from the crowded Democratic field by positioning himself as a centrist and Washington outsider.

Hickenlooper’s debut — first reported last week by The Colorado Sun — comes ahead of a kickoff event 5 p.m. Thursday at the Civic Center park amphitheater in downtown Denver that will feature other Colorado leaders and a performance by the Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats band.

“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,” he says in the video.

In a nod toward President Donald Trump, Hickenlooper invoked his childhood as a kid with thick glasses and a funny last name.

“I’ve stood up to my fair share of bullies — standing tall when it matters is something that really drives me,” he says.

MORE: John Hickenlooper preaches a new brand of politics ahead of his 2020 presidential bid.

The campaign’s debut did not include any major policy proposals, nor a detailed vision for the country’s future. But in an interview with The Colorado Sun on Monday, Hickenlooper outlined a policy agenda defiantly different than his rivals, particularly Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

In terms of health care, he wants to expand coverage by improving the current Affordable Care Act in a way that helps “private insurers succeed” instead of a universal government-run plan. But he said specifics would come “after the election.”

“Instead of battling over Medicare for All or universal coverage, I think the goal of the election is to really say, we all believe in universal coverage,” he told The Sun. “We think every person, every family, should have a medical home, you get to see the doctor once a year for a checkup, that’s a basic definition there.”

On the issue of the economy, Hickenlooper is proposing “free skills for everybody” rather than free college tuition, citing a workforce program in Colorado to help close the skills gap and fill vacant jobs.

“It might take us 10 or 20 years to get to free college for all, I don’t know, but … in the immediate future, we can get to free skills for everybody,” Hickenlooper said. “That’s not a wild, uninformed promise — that’s based on things that we’ve already achieved in Colorado and taking that onto a larger scale.”

In campaign speeches, Hickenlooper focuses on legislation he signed to expand Medicaid health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, as well as a requirement for universal background checks for gun purchases. He also touts his role in helping to bring environmental organizations and the oil and gas industry together to create new methane emissions regulations.

Hickenlooper is expected to pitch his vision the day after his campaign kickoff when he departs for Iowa, where he will spend Friday and Saturday on the campaign trail. His team is putting significant resources into the early presidential voting state to help boost his long-shot chances in a Democratic field with liberal heavyweights and major fundraisers who have overshadowed him to date.

One potential rival is Hickenlooper ally and friend Michael Bennet. The two-term U.S. senator from Denver recently traveled to Iowa and is considering whether to enter the race — a move that may complicate Hickenlooper’s bid because both candidates are expected to appeal to the same voters.

But Hickenlooper told The Sun he sees room for both in the race. “I don’t think we cancel each other out at all,” he said, “in a funny way I think we complement each other.”

In a statement after Hickenlooper’s announcement, Republicans poked at the new candidate and suggested he can’t compete with more liberal candidates in the race.

“The Hickenlooper that the rest of the country is seeing now isn’t the same Hickenlooper who worked with oil and gas and fought for Colorado energy for the last decade,” said Michael Fields, a Republican operative based in Colorado. “National Democrats are racing to the left and he’s is trying to keep up.”

Updated 10:50 a.m. March 4, 2019: This story was updated to include details from an interview with former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.