Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper gives a final address just before governor-elect Jarod Polis is sworn in as the state's new leader. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Brian Slodysko, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper on Thursday attacked rival Bernie Sanders’ vision of an America remade under democratic socialism and chastised others in the 2020 race for not repudiating that political philosophy.

The former Colorado governor said Sanders was “wrong” to call for policies such as “Medicare for All” that would dramatically increase public spending and government involvement in Americans’ daily lives. Hickenlooper called for less expansive changes to the “regulated capitalism that has guided this country for over 200 years.”

“The Democratic field has not only failed to oppose Sen. Sanders’ agenda, but they have actually pushed to embrace it,” Hickenlooper said at the National Press Club.

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Hickenlooper’s campaign has struggled to gain traction and he ranks toward the bottom in public opinion polls among the large field of candidates. But recently he has drawn attention for railing against socialism, perhaps most notably during the recent California Democratic convention, where he was booed loudly for deriding the idea.

“Democrats must say loudly and clearly that we are not socialists. If we do not, we will end up helping to re-elect the worst president in the country’s history,” he said in Washington. “Socialism is the most efficient attack line Republicans can use against Democrats as long as (President Donald) Trump is at the top of the ticket.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Handout)

His remarks followed Sanders’ impassioned defense Wednesday of his democratic socialism philosophy.

Sanders’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in his speech, he called on progressives to ignore “massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word ‘socialism’ as a slur.”

Hickenlooper contrasted himself with Sanders, who has vilified corporations for having outsize influence, and said government was most effective when working with the private sector and nonprofits.

He advocated domestic policies that would avoid the large costs associated with some of the ideas Sanders supports, including the Green New Deal and free college.

“Each candidate, I think, has a responsibility — however they want to do it — to draw that line and say ‘Hey, I’m not a socialist,” Hickenlooper said. “Not all the candidates like it when I say that.”

Also on Thursday, Hickenlooper announced that he supports a carbon tax as part of his plan to combat global warming.

Then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Along with the carbon tax, he said he would spend $350 billion on green infrastructure and efficient cars, rejoin the Paris climate accords and invest more in green technology research.

Hickenlooper is a former petroleum geologist who drew criticism from some environmentalists in Colorado for not being tougher on the state’s energy industry.

He wants to expand nationally the methane emission restrictions that he pioneered as governor. And he’d start a program to let young people pursue careers aimed at addressing climate change

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