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Democrats With Gubernatorial Experience May Launch Presidential Bids


The number of Democrats running for president in 2020 has already hit double digits. But there's a class of potential candidates we haven't heard much from yet, Democratic governors. NPR's Scott Detrow reports that they're largely betting that primary voters are going to reject partisan anger.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: In the final years of John Hickenlooper's time as Colorado governor, the Democrat had a rule.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: You know, I don't let anyone in my office - when I was governor, no one could mention his name 'cause then we'd talk for 30 or 40 minutes and never get anything done. You can talk about it endlessly.

DETROW: He, of course, is President Donald Trump. And as Hickenlooper considers a run for the White House, he seems to be worried that the 2020 primaries could turn into the same thing, just an endless debate about Trump without much conversation about what a Democrat would do as president.

HICKENLOOPER: I think it's essential that we beat President Trump. But it's not sufficient.

DETROW: So as he visits states like Iowa and South Carolina, Hickenlooper is spending a lot of time talking about bills he signed and deals he cut. In other words, things he accomplished. He isn't alone. Montana Governor Steve Bullock is another Western governor willing to bet that even as many candidates rail on Trump, in the end, Democratic voters will opt for governing over grievance. Here he is delivering his recent State of the State address.


STEVE BULLOCK: I'm optimistic that we can demonstrate that while we may have our differences at times, Republicans and Democrats can still work together in Montana to get things done. And we can do it without ever shutting down a government.

DETROW: This week, Bullock is facing questions about a staffer he fired for sexual harassment who went on to do the same in a later job working for New York's mayor. Bullock is apologizing, saying he should have done more to warn future employers. Bullock has spent months visiting early primary states and appearing on political news shows, like MSNBC's "Morning Joe," touting his accomplishments.


BULLOCK: We actually, by working hard, got Medicaid expansion passed, earned income tax credit, record investments in public education, one of the most progressive laws in the country that says if you're going to spend in our elections, you have to disclose where that money comes from.

DETROW: Now Hickenlooper is doing the same, pointing to gun control laws he signed and environmental protections he helped craft. Longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala sees the appeal of a candidate who can say I've won and gotten results in a red or purple state.

PAUL BEGALA: Democrats would surrender or compromise on "Medicare-for-all" or Green New Deal or taxes - anything, if it would guarantee them that a Democrat would replace Donald Trump. I think this is likely to be a less ideologically driven primary.

DETROW: That's also because so many of the candidates so far have shifted left and agree on so much policy. Amid the leftward shift and anger at Trump, Hickenlooper still sees a lane.

HICKENLOOPER: The one way that people can demonstrate quickly and firmly that they are against Trump is to show anger. I feel that. I feel the same (laughter) frustration. I feel the same anger. But I think there's also - I think there might be a kind of a new silent majority of people that are also going to want to see achievement.

DETROW: All these governors better hope so. In addition to Hickenlooper and Bullock, there's also Washington State's Jay Inslee focusing a potential campaign on climate change. Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is considering a run, too. They would all face an uphill battle in a crowded race dominated early on by national stars like Elizabeth Warren. Still, they're worth paying attention to. Not that many senators have ended up as president, after all, while governor after governor has gone to the White House.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.