John Hickenlooper championing Obama: "Lincoln wasn't a great debater"

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The Obama campaign is hauling surrogates all over the Denver metro area today as part of a bus tour to champion the president -- a week after he struggled at the University of Denver in the first debate against Mitt Romney. At one stop, Governor John Hickenlooper told supporters that they have a clear choice in this race.

Plus, "Lincoln wasn't a great debater," he said.

"We just have to make sure we get him re-elected," Hickenlooper told the crowd of volunteers inside the campaign's 9th Avenue field office. "I will do everything I can to help you. I'll be out there beside you.... I never even ran for student council, so most of you guys know more about this political stuff than I do."

Hickenlooper continued, "I can't tell you how important it is. In 29 days, we are making history, right?... It's just like Lincoln. When Lincoln ran for re-election, it was...dead close, I mean really a struggle, really close, and he wasn't a great public speaker. I mean, Obama's a great speaker. Lincoln wasn't a great debater."

The crowd of dozens of supporters and campaign volunteers laughed at the comment, prompting Hickenlooper to clarify: "I think he is a great debater, but the people, the grassroots rose up and re-elected Lincoln. And he has, without question, gone down as our greatest president in history -- one of our two or three greatest presidents. I think Obama is that good. It's been a long time since we had someone that we can actually...say this is gonna be one of the great presidents in history."

Asked to elaborate on the Lincoln analogy on his way out, Hickenlooper told us, "Evidently...in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, by most accounts, he had a hard time keeping up with Stephen Douglas, who was great. That's what I was referring to."

He added, "I go back and read that stuff. I thought...[Lincoln] was a great debater, but the word -- at least as I read the history books -- the word was, he wasn't the greatest debater."

The Lincoln-as-a-debater argument was very much a sidebar to the main points of the governor's speech -- that Obama is clearly the better choice than Mitt Romney and that he is a man Hickenlooper personally admires.

He started his speech, saying, "No president, with perhaps the exception of Abraham Lincoln, ever inherited a larger mess than President Obama when he came in.... Look at the recession we were in -- the potential for a Great Depression.

After listing off various initiatives of the president that have boosted the economy, he added, "Business is growing. Given the depth of that recession, it's a miracle."

But, he said, "I'm going to tell you the real reason that I hope all of you will put even more extra time over the next 29 days," and then talked about the Obama he knows personally.

Hickenlooper has spent an unusual amount of time with the president this summer, and not for good reasons. Obama visited earlier in the summer due to the state's devastating wildfires and then again after the Aurora theater shooting.

Continue for more of the governor's comments on Obama and his debate performance. "With the shooting and the fires, I spent more time with the president probably than most anybody in his cabinet," he says. "We spent three-and-a-half hours driving around Colorado Springs and I've never met anyone like him. I've never met anyone who has the emotional depth -- anyone in my whole life -- who has the capacity that he has, talking to people who have lost everything they own...to helping lift them up, to talking to firefighters...coming off a twelve-hour shift."

One comment of the president stuck out to Hickenlooper, he said, paraphrasing: "'The one thing we can't train is courage, and courage you all have shown over these last few weeks'... and we saw firefighters, tears coming down their cheeks."

Traveling to Aurora after the shooting wasn't a political decision for the president, Hickenlooper added. The president called him and said, "'Should I come?...Can I be helpful? Can I be useful?" the governor said.

Meeting with Aurora victims, Hickenlooper recalls, "He knew that words were inappropriate.... He walked up [to the families]...and he just stopped...and then they hugged each other for thirty seconds and the whole room...everyone lifted up."

After his speech, Hickenlooper told Westword that he's not worried about the bad reviews of Obama's debate performance.

"How often does your president or any country's leader debate?" he asked. "If anything -- I haven't talked to him, I don't know this -- but to me, he looked a little tired. I mean look at what's going on in the world, right? I'm gonna guess he missed a bunch of debate prep.... The guy's got a full-time job...and he's trying to campaign. The beautiful thing to me...it doesn't bother me at all that he didn't come off great, because you know what? He's running our country great. And that's what his highest priority is, clearly.... Every time something comes up, he's gonna drop the campaign, drop the debates. He's gonna get out there and do what the country needs, which is what you want."

But is he concerned about his debate performance especially given that it happened in a key swing state like Colorado?

"I don't think it's going to make any difference," he says. "As some of the facts come out around the differences between the two candidates and that continues to crystallize, I think people in Colorado -- especially the independents here -- are gonna see some of these choices [like the president's Medicare plan].... There'll be a rebound."

More from our Politics archive: "Strategic Allied Consulting: Voter-registration firm ex-employee being investigated in Colorado"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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