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John Hickenlooper doesn't like name-calling, Dick Wadhams

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Yesterday in this space, Colorado Republican Party chieftain Dick Wadhams veered from ripping that "monstrosity" of a health-care bill to negatively critiquing Democratic candidates he sees as vulnerable. Among them: Denver mayor and gubernatorial hopeful John Hickenlooper -- or, as Wadhams insists on referring to him as a way of tying him to the current governor, Hickenritter.

Of course, Wadhams has one of the easiest names to lampoon in U.S. politics. But rather than rolling out the ol' "Dickwad Hams" pronunciation, Hickenlooper spokesman George Merritt chooses to stay above the fray.

"John likes to say that people have been having fun with his last name since he was in grade school," Merritt notes. "We're just not going to take that bait."

By his very presence on the Hickenlooper campaign, Merritt, a former Denver Post reporter, establishes a connection with Bill Ritter, for whom he used to serve as a spokesman, too.

Of late, however, there's appeared to be at least some tension between the gov and the man who'd like to fill his chair. For instance, Hickenlooper suggested that Ritter had done a bit too much kowtowing to environmentalists when putting together oil-and-gas regulations. During a Channel 31 appearance, Ritter called this claim "a pretty bad mischaracterization of what happened" and admitted that Hickenlooper's line "got my dander up."

Nonetheless, Merritt again declines to engage.

"I think that plays into this kind of name-calling that Wadhams is talking about," he says. "We're just not going to do that. John has a distinct way he approaches issues, and that's what we're going to talk about. I think Coloradans are going to focus on how we are going to improve the economy, and on his background, like when he was in the restaurant business and how he brought that experience to his job as mayor. How he created jobs in the mayor's office and brought this business sense to government, and how we can take that to the state level."

This theme runs through a new e-mail blast -- the Hickenlooper campaign's first with an actual logo, Merritt points out with a laugh. The note asks recipients for ideas about how to improve Colorado, and Merritt says that as of this morning, somewhere around 800 responses have arrived, many with suggestions.

What's next for the Hickenlooper crew? More forays around the state. "In early February, he did a loop through Pueblo all the way across to Grand Junction," Merritt allows. "And we'll be heading up north soon -- continuing to go out and talk to folks like we've been doing about how to make Colorado better."

And if Wadhams and his minions continue to pepper Hickenlooper with the Hickenritter label?

"We're just not going to spend a lot of time responding to name-calling," he stresses. "It's not how we're going to run this campaign. Dan Maes and Scott McInnis are nice guys."

That's some pretty rough language, pal.

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