O'Malley Endorsement of Beto Deals Blow to Colorado's Hickenlooper

'He needs national figures like O'Malley to legitimize him to other Democrats'

John Hickenlooper / Getty Images
January 3, 2019

Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley endorsed Texan Beto O'Rourke for the 2020 Democratic nomination on Thursday, and in doing so, dealt a blow to the long-shot candidacy of Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.

O'Rourke was virtually unknown as a national political figure four years ago, but his performance in the Texas senate race against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz in 2018 made him a rising star in Democratic circles, even though he eventually lost to Cruz by a 51-49 split.

O'Malley and Hickenlooper had developed a close working relationship over several years while the two served as governors of their states.

For example, in 2012, when O'Malley showed off his guitar skills at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, he dedicated one of his songs to Hickenlooper, despite the presence of numerous other political luminaries in the crowd.

In 2015, while O'Malley was still considered to be a contender for the Democratic nomination for 2016, he surprised many by showing up with Hickenlooper at a party celebrating the end of Colorado's legislative session.

That appearance in Colorado caught the eye of former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, also a Democrat, who alerted Hillary Clinton staffers.

"Last night was sine die for the Colorado General Assembly," Webb wrote to John Podesta, in a hacked email later disclosed by Wikileaks. "At the sine die party at a capitol hill bar, Gov. Hickenlooper brought Gov. O'Malley with him. My aide snapped a pic of the two of them and I have attached it. Seems too coincidental that the two were at this event."

Webb had previously served as a campaign co-chair for Clinton's failed 2008 bid, and continued to be a strong supporter for her in Colorado circles again in the run-up to the 2016 vote.

Like most of the Democrats running, Hickenlooper hasn't formally announced his candidacy, but has been doing all of the things a likely candidate would be doing at this stage of the race. He has formed a leadership PAC to help pay for his appearances around the country as well as to perform other political activities like polling.

At an appearance in New Hampshire last October, he introduced himself to an employee of a coffee shop by saying he was running for president, a comment his staff later walked back by saying he was joking.

In December, the governor told CNN that he was past the 50-50 mark on the decision of whether to run, adding that "I think we're probably [at] 63, 64 percent."

Representatives with Hickenlooper's PAC did not respond to emails requesting comment on O'Malley's endorsement.

"I'm a bit surprised by the O'Malley endorsement because I thought the two [O'Malley and Hickenlooper] had quite the bromance," said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a free-market think in Colorado. (Disclosure: The author of this article was previously employed by the Independence Institute.)

"I mean, after all, Martin O'Malley did serenade Hickenlooper from stage at the DNC. I don't think Hickenlooper's well known outside of Colorado. He needs national figures like O’Malley to legitimize him to other Democrats," Caldara concluded.

Hickenlooper will leave his current office next Tuesday because of term limits.