Politics & Government

Over beer, potential 2020 candidate John Hickenlooper introduces himself to SC voters

As John Hickenlooper continues to mull a presidential bid, the former Colorado governor introduced himself to S.C. voters this week.

Tuesday night, Hickenlooper sipped IPAs at River Rat Brewery in Columbia, surrounded by a small group, including state Democratic Party leaders and former state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in November.

Hickenlooper addressed the S.C. Hospital Association Wednesday, detailing how he passed Medicaid expansion through the Colorado Legislature, then met with faith leaders at Trinity Baptist Church, a predominately black church in Columbia’s historic Waverly Place.

“I was just telling Gov. Hickenlooper that he’s got ... a pathway to victory,” Smith said Tuesday. “We desperately need authentic, real leadership that’s going to bring our nation back together.”

South Carolina, which holds the South’s first primary, already has welcomed a dozen prospective presidential candidates, with more to come.

South Carolina “plays an immense role in who the next candidate from both parties (will be) because I think there might be a primary in the Republican Party,” Hickenlooper said Wednesday. “That is an opportunity for Carolinians and for the state of (South) Carolina to really step up and be heard.”

Hickenlooper told reporters Tuesday that most primary voters want to vote for a candidate based on their character and resume — “what have you actually done.” The senators running for president, with less of a resume to lean on, are “going to have a hard time differentiating themselves,” he predicted.

At River Rat, Hickenlooper shared his life story, starting when he moved to Colorado to work as a geologist but later was laid off. After two years without a job, Hickenlooper opened a restaurant that brewed beer and, later, entered politics.

“Nobody thought I had a a snowball’s chance, a little bit like running for president if you’re from a Midwestern state, a mountain state.”

Hickenlooper’s climb to the top of the Democratic pack will be an uphill battle, observers say, particularly in South Carolina. Two African-American candidates already are in the Democratic presidential race, doubtless hoping that S.C. Democrats — 60 percent black — will support their campaigns.

But, “I told him (Hickenlooper), ‘Well, you know Mr. Obama stepped out when nobody knew him,’ ” said Columbia resident Minnie Wilson-Bivins Wednesday. “He won.

“You never know.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.