Why a Democratic underdog stays in the presidential hunt

Ben Werschkul
DC Producer

Ahead of the next debate, CNN has divided the Democratic field into three distinct tiers. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is firmly situated near the bottom and reflected on what that’s like to Rick Newman during an interview for Yahoo Finance’s Meet the Candidate series.

“It's kind of hard to answer the questions when they don't ask you,” he said. At the last debate in June, Hickenlooper received five minutes and eight seconds of airtime over two hours. At the same debate, Joe Biden got over 13 minutes while Sen. Kamala Harris came in at over 12 minutes.

Another key hurdle for Hickenlooper is fundraising: he raised $1.1 million in the second quarter. By comparison, Pete Buttigieg raised almost $25 million.

The former governor tries to brush aside concerns about money, preferring instead to focus on improving his messaging. He compares his situation to that of a sports underdog. He says when he finally made the varsity baseball team his senior year, “I remember standing on the mound thinking, I belong here. I've worked so hard. I feel I'm ready,” he said. “That's what I felt at the debate.”

What is unclear is if Hickenlooper will ever get a chance to play meaningful innings to catch the eye of campaign donors and voters with his message of pragmatism focused on his background in business.

On his messaging he knows he needs to improve. “I've got to find fresh ways of saying it,” he says, “because it's not capturing people's attention the way I think it should.”

Hickenlooper takes a moderate tack on a variety of economic issues from health care to the minimum wage to breaking up big tech. “I think mostly the strong support has been for the more visionary, the more utopian candidates” so far, he said, but “there are an awful lot of people out there that I'm not sure want to see massive expansions of the federal government but do want to have universal health care coverage.”

At the next debate Hickenlooper will appear on July 30 and share the stage with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Buttigieg, and six other candidates. If the past is prologue, Hickenlooper can expect minimal airtime.

But the hope, and what keeps Hickenlooper in the race, is that a single moment could change things. He says that his wife likes to compare him to Seabiscuit, the Depression-era underdog racehorse who famously beat the 1937 Triple-Crown winner, War Admiral, in a widely-watched race. That race spawned documentaries about the horse, a best-selling book, and a film that was nominated for a best picture Academy Award in 2003.

“Just remember that sometimes the long shot becomes the legend,” Hickenlooper says wistfully.

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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