Politics junkies are already so discouraged by the prospects in the 2012 presidential campaign that they're looking ahead to 2016, proposing all kinds of unlikely candidates -- including Governor John Hickenlooper, who was being measured for a White House run even before his inauguration eight months ago. Yet the buzz keeps getting louder, even as Hick, to no one's surprise, protests his utter disinterest.
That all this talk is at least four years premature hasn't stopped Politico from interviewing the former brewmeister on his chances, essentially arguing that the same factors that make him such a longshot -- his supposed "outsider" status, failure to toe the party line on various tax and business issues (especially his pro-drilling stance and enthusiasm for fracking) -- also make him an intriguing maverick (shades of McCain!) with potential broad-based appeal.
This could be so much drivel, of course. But given the enormous hurdles of any presidential bid, our own crack team of analysts believe it's never too early for Governor Hickenlooper to be floating some trial balloons. Most of all, he should be testing some campaign slogans for his eventual run, as defining the message can be the most critical and tricky part of the whole business. (Aside from that "raising money" thing.)
Just to get the ball rolling, our team has devised a short list of slogans, as tentative as Hickenlooper himself. They are built around issues Hick has made his own and suitable for a first-term governor whose staggering triumph last fall owes a tremendous debt to the general implosion of the state GOP. Our approach relied on three proven strategies:
1. Stress excellence. While Hickenlooper is renowned for his modesty, we didn't think calling attention to his own humbleness with faint praise (Hickenlooper for President: Not Half Bad) or common-man appeals (You Can Trust a Man with a Bad Haircut) will work. Better to declare what sets him apart and makes him a truly exceptional candidate, doggone it. We like this one: Hick! The Best Fracking President in the Whole Fracking World!
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2. Push the business background. Hickenlooper has held a range of challenging positions in real-world business situations, and it would be easy to build a campaign around one of his entrepreneurial personae -- the geologist (Hick: All Driller, No Filler), the brewpub visionary (All Suds, No Duds), even his renowned efforts to reform the City of Denver's parking bureaucracy (He Got the Meter Maids Off My Ass). But our research suggests that it would be better to promote his general friendliness to business interests rather than specific accomplishments that could be nitpicked to death. Our proposal is Hickenlooper: Not a Taxing Choice.
3. Play to the middle. One question that dogged Hickenlooper early in his gubernatorial campaign was the degree of his appeal outside the Denver metro area. That appeal wasn't tested much in the November election, thanks to the antics of Dan Maes and other opponents. But at the same time that the campaign will be pushing Hick's pro-corporate stance, it will have to present him as something of a small-town rube, tolerable to middle America. Fortunately, his wardrobe choices and folksy nickname ("Hick") are definite assets in that effort. If he's fortunate enough to have a resuscitated Cheney or similarly named Republican running against him, a classic slogan could emerge: Lick Dick with Hick, the Pick in the Sticks. But it's somewhat dangerous to build a campaign around a particular opponent, and there's a better way to bring out the broad base of Hickenlooper's appeal, regardless of his competition's nature. It boils down to one simple principle: Hickenlooper. Because he's not those other weirdos.
Feel free to add your own suggestions, and we'll bundle them all and send them to the governor's attention.
More from our Politics archive: "Rollie Heath on Proposition 103, which would hike taxes to raise money for schools."