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Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Colorado raise their hands along with members of the audience in response to a question asking if President Donald Trump has committed impeachable offenses during a forum held at Centennial Middle School in Montrose on Oct. 20, 2019. (William Woody, Special to the Colorado Sun)

John Hickenlooper, the leading Democrat in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, appeared uncertain when asked Sunday whether President Donald Trump has committed an impeachable offense.

The question, captured on video by The Colorado Sun, came at a candidate forum in Montrose sponsored by the Colorado Democratic Party, and the former governor’s apparent indifference drew quick criticism from his rivals.

John Hickenlooper, center, hesitates to raise his hand in response to a question about impeachment at a forum for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates on Oct. 20, 2019. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The six candidates on stage competing to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner were asked to raise their hands if they agreed that Trump committed an impeachable offense. Hickenlooper, who is backed by the national Democratic Senate campaign committee, hesitated for three seconds after the question finished and glanced around at his challengers before tepidly raising his hand.

He held his hand in the air for a second, before shrugging and muttering something inaudible on stage. His rival Andrew Romanoff told The Sun that he heard Hickenlooper say, “Well, we don’t know,” and recounted the line on Twitter.

“It looked to me that John wasn’t entirely sure where he stood,” Romanoff said in an interview. “I saw him put his hand up. I saw him put his hand down. He did a little Hokey Pokey there, turn it all around. Then in explanation to those of us on the stage … he said, ‘Well, we don’t know.’ In other words, we don’t know whether Trump committed an impeachable offense.”

A closer look at the response from John Hickenlooper, center, to a question about impeachment. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Hickenlooper campaign clarifies his position on Trump impeachment

A Hickenlooper spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the candidate’s answer but emphasized on Twitter after the forum that he raised his hand. 

In a statement to The Sun on Monday, spokeswoman Melissa Miller said Hickenlooper agrees that Trump committed impeachable offenses. She also took issue with the question, which came from an audience member.

“John Hickenlooper has always said that no one should be above the law. Impeachment is a serious constitutional matter that shouldn’t be reduced to a yes-or-no question before the House of Representatives has even finished their inquiry,” she wrote. “Hickenlooper believes that, based on what has been publicly reported, the president has committed impeachable offenses by holding up federal dollars to try to get a foreign nation to investigate one of his political opponents.”

MORE: John Hickenlooper posts Colorado fundraising record in his first six weeks as U.S. Senate candidate

The indecision is indicative of Hickenlooper’s aversion to snap judgments and propensity toward gaffes, but more broadly, the 20-second episode reflects how members of both parties are struggling with the move to impeach Trump.

In Washington, moderate Democrats are concerned that the party may be stepping too far in its pursuit for impeachment of Trump after he acknowledged pressuring Ukraine’s leader to investigate political rival Joe Biden’s son. And in Colorado, Gardner struggled in a cringe-worthy video to answer questions from reporters about whether it’s appropriate for a U.S. president to make such a request of a foreign leader.

In the presidential race, Hickenlooper also was slower than other candidates to demand an impeachment inquiry, joining the call in May, a month after the release of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report.

A poll conducted earlier this month by Keating Research, which has worked for Hickenlooper’s prior campaigns, found that a majority of active Colorado voters support an impeachment inquiry, and 48% think he should be impeached and removed from office.

MORE: Colorado’s highly coveted unaffiliated voters overwhelmingly support Trump-impeachment inquiry, new poll shows

Other Democrats in primary race aren’t hesitant on Trump

After Hickenlooper put his hand down, he appeared visibly frustrated by the question. He shook his head and looked down toward the table in front of him.

Diana Bray, who sat between Hickenlooper and Romanoff on stage, told The Sun she didn’t hear what Hickenlooper said, but recognized his struggle with the question. “He hesitated in raising his hand,” she said. “He didn’t really have his hand raised.”

The other candidates on the stage, including Bray, didn’t mind the question. As soon as the moderator finished, the five other challengers shot their hands immediately into the air. Three of the six candidates raised both their arms, and Stephany Rose Spaulding even lifted one of her legs in the air to show how much she agreed with the question. Dozens of audience members also raised their hands.

Romanoff held his hand up for a full 10 seconds, leaving no doubt about where he stands. He also compared Hickenlooper’s answer to the one Gardner gave 10 days earlier in which the incumbent suggested an investigation is needed to determine the answer.

“It is illegal to seek foreign aid in an election, or to ask a foreign leader or government to interfere in our election or to investigate a political rival,” Romanoff said. “That’s one example of an impeachable offense the president has committed and bragged about.”

He added: “In my mind this is not a close call.”

The view from the back of the room when Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Colorado are asked a question about the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

William Woody is a photojournalist based in Colorado, documenting everything Western Slope. Email: Twitter: @wwoodyCO

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