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Former Colo. Gov. Hickenlooper Courts 2020 Voters In Newmarket

Annie Ropeik

Democratic voters packed a bar in Newmarket last night to see former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper make his case to be the next president.

Hickenlooper walked through the Seacoast town’s main street to Stone Church Music Hall with state Rep. Michael Cahill, checking out the revitalized mill buildings along the way.

Then, in front of bar-goers sipping beer and eating nachos, he touted reforms he was able to pass in Colorado and said he can bring people together to solve problems.

“This is a moment in history where the country has to come together, and even though people think it’s impossible, we’ve got to work harder,” Hickenlooper said.

He recalled, in his stump speech and in conversations with voters, how his wife often compares him to Seabiscuit, the champion racehorse of the 1930s.

“Seabiscuit wasn’t as big as the other thoroughbreds, Seabiscuit didn’t have the same wealthy stable, didn’t have the famous trainer, but Seabiscuit had heart,” he said. “My wife will tell this story about how Seabiscuit worked harder and Seabiscuit would never quit. And then she’d pause and say, ‘My husband is Seabiscuit.’”

As he answered questions from voters, Hickenlooper underscored his more moderate stances, including on health care:

“I respect Senator [Bernie] Sanders. I’m going to probably tick off some people … but I’m not sure that we can get to, immediately, in one moment, go and make the transition into Medicare for all,” he said, to some applause.

UNH junior Oscany Dejesus asked how Hickenlooper would address violent white supremacist incidents like the deadly 2017 protest in Charlottesville.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper walks through downtown Newmarket with local Democratic state Rep. Michael Cahill.

After discussing his approach in Colorado to police shootings of black people, Hickenlooper said he thinks the federal government should formally apologize for slavery.

Dejesus was thrilled by that answer.

"I've never heard a candidate say that, and it means a lot, it really does,” she said after Hickenlooper’s appearance.

Dejesus voted for the first time in the 2018 midterm elections. As the 2020 primary season heats up, she says, she’s attended events with a few other candidates, including Cory Booker.

But so far, she said she prefers what she sees as Hickenlooper’s less-rehearsed style.

“He’s just coming in here and just being a normal dude, and that’s just so refreshing to see,” she said.

Ken Goldman of Portsmouth said he thinks former governors may lack foreign policy experience, but they can make better presidents than members of Congress in other ways.

“I think that executive experience and being able to work with the legislature is very important,” he said.

But Goldman said he hasn’t picked his favorite candidate yet. And some of Hickenlooper’s former constituents also stopped short of calling him their front-runner.

Kate Surman, who recently returned to Dover after living in Colorado for several years, did remember Hickenlooper fondly as mayor of Denver and as her governor.

“He’s a scientist and a businessman and he was able to bring people together,” she said. “He was a very good governor, I thought – a fair person – so I’m happy to see him in the race.”

She says she wants to see as many candidates in person as possible before she makes up her mind who she'll support.

Hickenlooper’s Newmarket stop was capped by an awkward exchange with one group of voters.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Hickenlooper speaks at Stone Church Music Hall in Newmarket while Griffin Sinclair-Wingate of 350 New Hampshire, at right, listens with other voters.

He often touts his record negotiating with oil and gas companies in his home state to pass major restrictions on methane emissions.

So when activists with New Hampshire Youth Movement asked him to sign a pledge not to take contributions from the fossil fuel industry, he said yes without question.

But, minutes later, he scratched out his signature when he read the pledge more closely, and saw it bars donations from oil and gas workers as well as companies.

N.H. Youth Movement's Griffin Sinclair-Wingate said he wouldn't have minded if Hickenlooper had first taken time to discuss the pledge with his staff before he signed it. But he says one thing’s clear:

“I don’t think he’s our climate champion,” Sinclair-Wingate said of Hickenlooper, adding that he hasn’t identified a top candidate on that issue yet but is happy to see it getting plenty of attention.

Hickenlooper told reporters he felt misled by Sinclair-Wingate about the pledge, but doesn’t plan to take contributions from fossil fuel companies or any corporation PACs.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the nonprofit Griffin Sinclair-Wingate represented at the event. He spoke on behalf of New Hampshire Youth Movement, not 350NH.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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