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Hickenlooper Winning Bipartisan Praise

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks during a news briefing in Bellvue, Colo., on June 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

photo of Scott Bland
January 24, 2013

Popular Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is up for reelection in 2014, and he's done little wrong so far, even in the eyes of his political adversaries. In fact, the biggest obstacle standing between Hickenlooper and a second term might be the governor's fellow Democrats.

That, at least, is what Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Thursday in an interview at the Hotline's offices in Washington, D.C. Gessler has been mooted as a potential GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2014; he is one of three Republican statewide elected officials. He said he is planning to run for reelection to his current post. "I'm running for secretary of state" in 2014, Gessler said.

But when asked, as a leading Colorado Republican, to identify what Hickenlooper has done wrong so far in his first term, Gessler demurred.

"I'm hesitant to push any criticism of Hickenlooper right now," Gessler said. "We're going to see, is my answer."

Facing Hickenlooper's strong public approval and a decade-worth of dispiriting election results, state Republicans like Gessler have pinned their hopes of retaking the governor's mansion on the incumbent either choosing to retire after one term, like his predecessor Gov. Bill Ritter, or getting bogged down in liberal policy proposals from Colorado's Democratic-controlled state legislature.

"How he reacts to the Democratic legislature is key," Gessler said. "Ask me in five months."

Hickenlooper came into the governor's mansion with a business background and moderate credentials, and since then the divided Colorado legislature has not sent anything controversial to his desk. Now, with Democrats in control of both state legislative houses, Hickenlooper may have to act on liberal proposals in fraught areas like gun control, regulating Colorado's legalized marijuana, union rules, and new spending programs, among others. Other governors around the country have built first-term popularity while dealing with a divided government, and now some will have to exercise their parties' new power carefully with the 2014 elections approaching.

Republican troubles in Colorado are built on "a lot of structural things," Gessler said, listing Democrats' donor base, big interest group and union involvement, Latino population growth, and other factors in no particular order. Meanwhile, Gessler gave a much shorter answer when asked to describe the state of the Colorado Republican Party itself: “Disarray.” Good congressional results in 2010 and 2012 are among just a few recent bright spots for the GOP; Hickenlooper won in 2010 partly thanks the complete implosion of the Republican campaign. But Gessler and others in the state's GOP hope that Democratic strength can rebound to Republicans' favor in 2014.

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