Hickenlooper: Hard to Fundraise When You Don’t Promise Free Stuff

Struggling 2020 hopeful calls top Democratic ideas 'pie in the sky'

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper admitted Tuesday it's hard to get donations from Democrats when his campaign isn't promising things like free health care and college.

Hickenlooper wouldn't answer MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin when asked about his second-quarter fundraising total, sheepishly saying "we certainly haven't raised $24 million," a reference to Mayor Pete Buttigieg's latest haul. Hickenlooper saw several campaign departures this week as he struggles to stay relevant in the crowded 2020 field, barely polling at 1 percent in national and early-primary state polls.

"The bottom line is for a small campaign like us from a, you know—Colorado's about 6 million or a little less than 6 million people—it's harder to raise money because we don't—we're not promising free health care or, you know, free tuition for everyone, forgive student debt," Hickenlooper said. "We're trying to present a picture of this country and what it can be in the future that will resonate with everyone, and that has, you know, that's a harder vehicle by which to get small donors."

Melvin said it sounded like Hickenlooper was describing two key Democratic proposals—canceling student debt and free health care—as "pie-in-the-sky" ideas.

"Yeah, I think they'd be very hard to implement," Hickenlooper said. "One of the points I've tried to make is as Democrats I think we've very clearly got to say that we're not socialists, and many people view those large, you know, large expansions of government as in some way socialist. I'm not saying they are, I'm just saying that the Republicans are going to say we're socialists and I think we've very clearly got to say socialism is not the solution. I can say that."

Melvin said he found Hickenlooper's remark telling, as it seemed to concede most of the Democratic contenders needed to convince a large portion of the country that they weren't all socialists.

"I think it does represent the fact that there's a lot of large programs that have been proposed that … could be perceived and in many ways are expansions of government," he said.

He used the examples of the Green New Deal and Medicare for All endorsed by the top 2020 candidates, the latter of which could result in eliminating private health insurance for more than 180 million Americans.

"Those are big, I would argue pie-in-the-sky type programs," he said. "And I think we've got to be very clear that socialism's not the answer. In Colorado we got to near universal healthcare without that kind of big expansion. In Colorado, we got the number one economy. We've passed universal background checks in a purple state. There are ways to get to very progressive objectives without these massive programs."