John Hickenlooper peers down from his second-level perch, smiling at the 200-plus happy faces below him.
As campaign appearances go, this gathering of El Paso County Democrats is a breeze for the man who clearly looks like a 58-year-old nerd but who suddenly also looks likely to be Colorado's next governor.
These are supporters, people who have come to the TreLuna Downtown Event Center on July 21 because they sense a strengthening of their numbers and their party's future influence on our local and state government.
But they do want and need a single leader, someone who can truly become the Democrats' standard-bearer for Colorado.
That person might well become Hickenlooper, the Denver mayor whose business roots reach back to Colorado Springs' downtown revitalization more than 15 years ago, which produced Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. at the corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade avenues.
He knows our city, he knows Denver, and he's quickly becoming better-acquainted with the rest of the state (though he already knew the land from his pre-restaurant years as a geologist).
Hickenlooper also is refining his basic stump speech, portions of which he shares on this occasion. People throughout Colorado are concerned about the economy, first and foremost, he says, and they're "mad as hell at government." But since he hasn't been involved with running the state or dealing directly with Congress, he takes full advantage of that free pass.
He also knows how to appeal to independents and center-leaning Republicans, saying, "We have to build business... and that means jobs. We have to brand this state with a new identity, because we've already got the third-best business environment in the U.S."
The crowd eats it up. No deep social or environmental concerns on this night. And with the state GOP in such disarray — this speech comes just as Tom Tancredo begins his strange assault on the Republican party that sent him to Congress for 10 years — it appears Hickenlooper actually might make it through the general election without any trench warfare.
As for whether he'll take over as the state's Democratic field general — a role that Gov. Bill Ritter never appeared comfortable in assuming — Hickenlooper has to wait until after the Aug. 10 primary.
That's because Andrew Romanoff still might emerge. And about 30 minutes before Hickenlooper's pep talk, Romanoff made his own appearance at TreLuna, pushing his Senate campaign against Sen. Michael Bennet.
This was vintage Romanoff, smooth and charismatic, aggressive but diplomatic, knowing there were many Bennet backers in the room. Bennet didn't make this event, though his wife, Susan Daggett, came with their children.
But Romanoff also remembered to play the party leader. He made sure to single out attorney general candidate Stan Garnett and Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, both of whom were waiting their turns to speak. Romanoff talked about the importance of paying attention to those other races, including state treasurer Cary Kennedy's re-election bid.
Hickenlooper didn't think to do that, and neither did anyone else. It simply underscored the fact that Romanoff cares about much more than his own race, which he verbalized by saying, "I'm happy to have helped grow the Democratic party in Colorado." As we now know, too, Romanoff has gone so far as to sell his home in Denver, with the proceeds going to his primary campaign.
But this wasn't just a state caravan visiting Colorado Springs, by any means. The group included state Sen. John Morse and Rep. Dennis Apuan, both of whom face November opponents, as well as outgoing Rep. Michael Merrifield (firing up his run for county commissioner), Pete Lee (hoping to replace Merrifield) and county clerk candidate Tom Mowle. All of them should benefit later from being on the same side as Hickenlooper and, to be honest, either Bennet or Romanoff, because they'll surely be sharing the same stages for more events in months ahead.
And there indeed will be more events in Colorado Springs, home to more than 82,000 registered Democrats, plus at least that many unaffiliated voters who might respond — at the polls, if not publicly — to the kind of optimism and hope that is galvanizing the party across Colorado.
This might not be a blue county, but it's beginning to look very purple.
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